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Monday 12 October 2009

Hiving Off, Privatising, or Asset Sale?

Back in the days of Sailor Heath’s early 70s Government, a state owned asset was sold, that being the Carlisle brewery, which had been nationalised during the Great War. At the time, the future Tory mood music was not yet in place, and the sale was described as “hiving off”. There was remarkably little fanfare or enthusiasm, which may seem strange, as the private sector is the obvious place for such an industry.

Things were rather different in the Thatcher years, certainly once the Tories had got themselves re-elected: a whole raft of state owned industries were sold, and contrary to some views, they weren’t all basket cases. BT wasn’t. The gas and electricity companies either weren’t, or need not have been. And the TSB wasn’t, and it’s possible it wasn’t HMG’s to sell – but what the heck? Off they all went into private hands, for one off payments, the shares often priced, shall we say, to go.

But what goes around, comes around: Pa Broon announces a sell off and the response seems to have gone back to the early 70s, and perhaps beyond: what was enthusiastically applauded in the Thatcher years is now criticised. With one part of that criticism I agree: it’s not good to sell off an asset at what may be the bottom of the market.

Perhaps beggars cannot be choosers. We will see.

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