Tycoon’s airport bid to ease cuts agenda

Li Ka-shing
Li Ka-shing

WIGAN Council’s cuts nightmare could be swept away by a massive international share deal.

It is believed that Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing is negotiating to buy into Manchester Airport which is wholly owned by the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester, including Wigan.

The deal for a 35 per cent share of the equity may mean a one-off payment of “as much as £100m” for town hall chiefs.

But they are reported to be considering using the windfall instead as part of a £1bn bid with the other councils to allow their Manchester Airports Group - which already owns East Midlands, Bournemouth and Hunderbside airports - to buy Stanstead Airport instead.

Latest figures show Wigan. which owns five per cent of the airport, received a £1m dividend payment from profits last financial year.

Council chief executive Donna Hall and council leader Lord Smith today both declined to comment on the reports or Wigan’s intentions should the mega deal be concluded.

Hong Kong-based Li Ka-shing is the ninth richest person in the world having built up a huge business empire.

But a leading opposition councillor is now demanding that any such cash windfall be used to end the current wave of cuts to Wigan’s services forced by the Government’s funding restrictions.

The Independent Group’s Coun Jim Ellis said Metro chiefs should take the cash to ease their financial woes.

He said: “Since when has the ownership and purchase of airports been a front line service for the people of Wigan?

“I think that the people of Wigan will find it outrageous that the 10 councils, including the Metro, are prepared to sell for what is a non-beneficial foray into further airport ownership.

“If the sale goes ahead dividends from the airport will reduce by one third leaving the 10 councils taking a similar cut in the income.

“Is this one of the reasons for a further cut in staff to pay for the council’s profligacy and loss of income?

“The £100m from the sale of a third of Manchester Airport equity could potentially increase to possibly £150m, rendering the current council cutbacks entirely unnecessary.

“At the very least a portion of this could save Hindley swimming pool and other facilities, most of which are regarded by the public as front line services, under threat of closure.”

Billionaire Li Ka-shing is Britain’s biggest foreign investor and already owns 3, the mobile phone network, Northumbrian Water, the Superdrug retail chain and the Port of Felixstowe.

But if successful it would be his first international move into airports.

A rival bidder for a chunk of highly successful Manchester Airport - a joint venture between 3i and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority - is now reported to have dropped out of the bidding race.

The report in The Sunday Times also states Manchester Airport’s chief executive Charles Cornish was on the Board of Northern Gas Netwowrks, which was owned Mr Ka-shing.