Outlook: Golden shares

THAT SOUND of rattling in Whitehall yesterday was the Government dusting off its collection of golden shares in privatised industries. They have lain neglected in cupboards for so long that the Treasury had trouble initially recalling how many it still owned. For the record, the answer is fourteen, including shares in British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and a clutch of electricity companies ranging from British Energy to the National Grid. Their main purpose is to prevent anyone the Government deems inappropriate - in other words foreign - from acquiring the company in question.

The reason for the sudden bout of renewed interest is the latest pronouncement from Brussels, declaring that some golden shares constitute a breach of EU law guaranteeing free movement of capital. Mario Monti has his eye principally on the French, whom he suspects will wave their golden share in Elf Acquitaine to ensure that the Anglo-Saxons are not allowed to intrude on its takeover tussle with TotalFina.

But BAA, the owner of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, has also been caught in Mr Monti's spotlight. No single shareholder may own more than 15 per cent of BAA without the say so of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. Unless the EC has forgotten, this is 15 per cent more than a private investor can hold in most other airports around Europe. Moreover, there is no limit on the proportion of BAA shares which may be held collectively overseas, unlike BAe and Rolls-Royce, where the ceiling remains 29.5 per cent.

In principle, there is little justification for governments retaining indefinite golden shares, since they merely protect the companies in question from the rigours of open markets. Since they are rarely used either, at least on these shores, there is even less purpose in retaining them.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people'It’s not that people react badly to it – they really don't care'
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
gaming
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: PR, Marketing & Events Executive - Southwark, London - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: PR Marketing & Events Exe...

Selby Jennings: C++ Developer – Hedge Fund – New York

$80000 - $110000 per annum, Benefits: Bonus and Employee Investment Scheme: Se...

Selby Jennings: Java Developer Enterprise Specialist –Paris,France

€30000 - €50000 per annum, Benefits: Competitive Bonus: Selby Jennings: Java D...

Selby Jennings: QA Engineer Lead – Hedge Fund – Chicago

$60000 - $90000 per annum, Benefits: Competitive Bonus and Employee Investment ...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible