Semi-states in line for financial stock take

THE Government is creating an expert group to “assess the value” of semi-state companies – and hasn’t ruled out a sell-off which could yield billions of euro.

It is insisting, however, that the main purpose of the group will be to examine the financial position of the semi-states and determine whether “efficiencies” can be made.

Economist Colm McCarthy, the author of last year’s Bord Snip report which advised the Government on ways to chop public spending, will be a member of the group and may chair it. Tánaiste Mary Coughlan said the Government wanted “an inventory” of state assets as it prepared to decide on how best to save €3 billion in December’s budget.

“We’re going to have to look at everything – and we will be back again in the process presently of preparing the next budget,” she told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.

“It will take some time to come to the end of our deliberations in the €3bn that we have to obtain and it is a difficult decision that is going to have to be made.”

A number of the semi-states were “quite buoyant” and had “created wealth”, she added.

“Many of them are strategic and therefore if we are to make any decisions, those would all have to be done in an overall situation – whereby we are looking at the strategic investments of the state and not just dealing with this crisis but looking at the future.”

The Department of Finance said the expert group’s task will be to “assess the scale and value of semi-state companies’ assets and liabilities”.

It insisted that talk of a “massive sell-off” was “just speculation”, but did not rule out the disposal of the some of the semi-states, saying the exercise had “no predetermined outcome”.

Rationalisation may be an option if it is found that some of the semi-states are duplicating work by others.

A department spokesman pointed out, for example, that four of the semi-states are currently operating wind turbines.

The review group will examine such cases to see if “efficiencies” can be found, he said.

There are 30 commercial semi-state organisations, according to the Government’s website, such as An Post, Bord Gáis, the ESB, CIÉ and the National Lottery.

A sale of several of the larger semi-states could potentially raise billions and lessen the scale of Government cutbacks and tax increases.

Fine Gael communications spokesman Leo Varadkar said if any semi-states were sold, the proceeds should be ring-fenced for investment in jobs and improving infrastructure.

“There is a real fear that this Government will plough any proceeds into the big pot of day-to-day spending which will have no impact on Ireland’s jobs crisis,” he said.


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