AEA float cost public pounds 141m

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The Independent Online
Taxpayers emerged with a pounds 141m bill in the aftermath of last autumn's privatisation of AEA Technology, the final state sell-off staged by the previous government, it was revealed yesterday.

The Department of Trade and Industry wrote off loans of pounds 141m to UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), the state-owned research and decommissioning organisation from which AEA Technology was spun off. According to UK AEA's annual report, published yesterday, the DTI "extinguished" pounds 55m of temporary borrowings from the National Loans Fund and a further pounds 86m of long-term capital loans.

Derek Pooley, chief executive of UKAEA, said the money was used to restructure the combined body prior to AEA Technology's privatisation. The move involved hiving off potentially profitable commercial science and engineering activities, leaving nuclear decommissioning and waste treatment liabilities under public control and cutting hundreds of jobs.

The disclosure is likely to add to concern that the sale, which raised pounds 224m, was hugely underpriced. The shares have since risen from the 280p float price to 422p, valuing the company today at pounds 340m.

Mr Pooley insisted the money had been well spent by the government. "Clearly a lot of it went on shedding people and making redundancy payments. A lot of nuclear research for the government had to come to an end. That was a very good exercise overall and AEA Technology was a successful privatisation."

The report also showed Mr Pooley was given a 25 per cent pay increase last year, taking his total earnings to pounds 115,340.

AEA also announced yesterday it was making its fourth, and largest, acquisition since it was privatised, by paying C$78m (pounds 34m) for Hyprotech, a Canadian company in the process simulation software business.