Serco may help bail out troubled Nats

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The Independent Online

Serco, the losing bidder for Britain's air traffic control service, confirmed yesterday it might be interested in bailing out the financially stricken business.

However, Serco denied it had held any discussions with National Air Traffic Services (Nats) and said it was not interested in buying the company outright.

Nats was taken over last year by the Airline Group, a consortium backed by several UK airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and BMI British Midland, through a public-private partnership. But it hit a financial crisis in the wake of 11 September and last month the Government was forced to provide £30m of emergency aid.

Kevin Beeston, Serco's new executive chairman, said: "Should an opportunity come up to discuss how we could be involved in helping Nats we would be interested in pursuing it but there is absolutely no question of us buying the business."

He was speaking as Serco, which is involved in a range of PPPs and operates London's Docklands Light Railway, launched a £120m share placing. The proceeds will refinance the £70m acquisition of AEA Technology's nuclear consulting business, which Serco completed last year, and fund other new contracts. Pre-tax profits for the year ended 31 December were up 23 per cent to £46.4m and Serco said it was evaluating opportunities worth £15bn.

Despite the recent furore over the rise in Britain's prison population, Mr Beeston said he saw no slowdown in the building of private gaols. "People are living longer and unfortunately more of them are offending," he said.

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