'Millionaires firm' that came from nowhere: Privatisation is criticised for selling state assets to sole bidder. Chris Blackhurst reports

NATIONAL Transcommunications is one of those telecommunications companies that seem to have come from nowhere in a very short space of time. Except that unlike most of its other high-flying rivals, according to its critics, NTL has been the beneficiary of government largesse.

Chaired by the shrewd Arthur Walsh, the former chief of STC and managing director of Marconi, NTL has cornered the market that few thought exciting a few years ago: transmitter masts. As a result, while others ploughed all their energy and millions into developing the more fashionable fibre optical cables, NTL has concentrated on sending messages through the air.

Whether the Government should have perceived the way the industry was headed and how it would be possible, using radio technology, to use the towers as the basis for a cheap trunk call phone network, is another matter. Certainly, there were at least two other potential bidders for the IBA transmitters three years ago. One, a consortium of Mercury Communications and French Telecom, never got off the ground. Another, from GEC, also evaporated.

In the end, to the surprise of John Forrest, NTL's chief executive, there was just his company. A price of pounds 70m for 500 masts that, according to industry insiders could cost pounds 150m to replace, looked a good deal. Not too good: a report into the sale from the National Audit Office, the public spending watchdog, said the Government had not erred. Despite the subsequent non-appearance of other bids, the sale, said the NAO, had been competitive. But critics, led by Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South, point out the NAO report was produced in agreement with the Home Office and when it was obvious only one firm was involved, the Government should have postponed the privatisation.

Instead, said Mr Simpson, it went ahead, and NTL got a bargain. If the BBC masts also go to NTL, this small, three-year-old company will have a lucrative stranglehold over Britain's terrestrial broadcasters.

Mr Simpson's concern lies not just with the TV masts but also with the sale to the company earlier this year of the Home Office's mobile communications network. Most radio calls from police, ambulance and fire services go through the old Department of Telecommunications or DTELS, now part of NTL.

Despite relocating less than two years ago to Mr Simpson's Nottingham constituency, the Government pressed ahead with selling the business to a company that made no secret it would close the new offices and move the staff back south. Some of them, admitted Mr Forrest yesterday, would inevitably lose their jobs. 'We said we didn't want it (the new Nottingham headquarters) in our bid to the Home Office,' he said. There would be some redundancies, he added.

Mr Simpson said the sale to a company that was closing new offices 'was a tragic betrayal of commitments given to the staff when they came to Nottingham'.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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 General

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before