The British government plans to sell its 40 percent stake in the fast-speed Eurostar train operator that links Britain with the European continent. Ciara Lee reports.
ATTN CLIENTS - PLS USE THIS VERSION - FRENCH COMPANY IS SNCF NOT SNFC - MANY APOLOGIES Bon voyage - the UK could soon be waving goodbye to its stake in Eurostar. It's planning to sell its 40 percent share in the fast-speed train operator that links Britain with the continent. The government has invited bidders to express their interest by the end of the month, in a deal that could raise 300 million pounds. Paul Deighton is Commercial Secretary to the UK Treasury. (SOUNDBITE) PAUL DEIGHTON, COMMERCIAL SECRETARY TO THE UK TREASURY, SAYING: "Really this is just the financial assets, so if we can exchange those shares for good value, it makes perfect sense for the economy to pay down the deficit and use the financial flexibility that gives us to invest in bits of our infrastructure that do need public expenditure behind them." Some fear the move will lead to more UK railways being owned by foreign investors. But the government's not worried. It's all part of a plan to sell 20 billion pounds of assets over the next 6 years. (SOUNDBITE) PAUL DEIGHTON, COMMERCIAL SECRETARY TO THE UK TREASURY, SAYING: "The kinds of things we are looking at over the next 5 years, would include student loans, of which we have a very big portfolio. So at some point it makes sense for us again to sell those into the private sector. There's not need for the government to continue to own those." Eurostar's other shareholders are French state-owned rail operator SNCF with 55 percent and the Belgian government with 5 percent. They have reportedly decided not to bid. Instead a minority share of Eurostar could get it's fist ever private owner. The train company has carried 145 million passengers since coming into service 20 years ago. And it's been fruitful for the UK. It paid an 18.6 million pound dividend last year, of which 7.4 million went to the British government.