Row builds up over the latest privatisation

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The Independent Online
Christian Wolmar

Ministers have been accused of rushing through the privatisation of the Building Research Establishment without creating a "level playing field for all bidders".

Nick Raynsford, the shadow construction minister, has accused his counterpart, Robert Jones, the minister for construction, of being "economical with the truth" over the privatisation of the BRE, which carries out research on building materials for the Government and the industry. The BRE is being sold to an in-house management team which beat off competition from University College London and the deal is supposed to be completed within the next few days at a price that has yet to be announced.

Earlier this week Mr Raynsford failed in a call for an emergency debate on the issue in Parliament. He said an internal study group into the future of the BRE had been set up to examine a range of issues relating to the organisation's income, efficiency and expenditure. Five members of the in-house management bid team were on that group and Mr Raynsford claimed that this gave them an unfair advantage over outside bidders.

He said that in parliamentary answers Mr Jones had claimed that no documentation relating to that group had been disclosed to either bidder. However, in a subsequent answer, Mr Jones confirmed that five members of the in-house team had been on the study group.

Mr Raynsford told the Commons: "I believe that this involves a serious failure to give full and straightforward answers to parliamentary questions."

Mr Raynsford is demanding an inquiry into the sale by the Commons Environment Committee and said yesterday: "The way in which this privatisation has been conducted raises serious grounds for concern. The Goverment is desperate to rush this privatisation through for ideological reasons with scant regard to the public interest."

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