Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has refused to say if the Scottish Government will be repaid in full from the future sale of Prestwick Airport.
The airport was on the verge of returning to private ownership – after being purchased by the Scottish Government for £1 in 2013 – before the preferred bidder pulled out of the purchase, citing the Covid-19 pandemic as a reason.
Appearing before the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Michael Matheson said “more than one interested party” had made themselves known to the airport.
To date, £43.4 million of Scottish Government loans have been made to the airport.
Mr Matheson was unable to guarantee that taxpayer money would be returned in full to the Scottish Government as a result of any future sale, in response to a question from Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles.
He said: “The member will recognise that Prestwick is a significant employer in the Ayrshire economy.
“Not just directly with around 300 jobs at the site itself, but also with many of the aerospace businesses that are clustered around Prestwick are dependent on the airport, which is in excess of 1,000 jobs.
“I think it’s important to recognise that the investment which has been made by the Scottish Government in Prestwick not only helps to sustain the airport as an aviation facility and employment at the airport, it also helps to sustain what is a very important aerospace sector within the Scottish economy around Prestwick Airport.
“Any negotiation with a purchaser will be dependent on those negotiations at that given time.”
When pressed by Labour MSP Colin Smyth later in the session on if the repayment of the loans will be a condition of the sale, Mr Matheson said: “What I will do is I won’t start to open up the approach to the sale of the airport if it does proceed.
“You can be absolutely assured that we will take an approach which is in the best interests of taxpayers in Scotland, and also for the workforce at the airport and its importance for the Ayrshire economy.
“We will work to make sure that we get the best return for taxpayers if any sale proceeds.”
Mr Matheson was also unable to give a timescale for the sale, saying the Covid-19 pandemic will inevitably delay negotiations due to its impact on the aviation sector.