SUNDERLAND City Council should sell its shares in Newcastle International Airport, say Wearside Conservatives.
The calls come amid concerns about the running of the airport after it lost a recent legal case over claims directors were allowed to pay themselves millions of pounds in bonuses.
It is owned by seven local authorities, known as LA7, which includes Sunderland and Durham County Councils, who agreed a £218million loan to refinance its debt earlier this year.
Sunderland Council, the authority with the highest percentage of ownership, has taken more than £1.5million in dividends since 2009, with its share of the refinancing believed to be between £15million and £20million.
Last month, it was announced Australian firm AMP Capital had bought a 49 per cent stake in the airport.
Tory leader Councillor Robert Oliver has argued the airport should be run by “real executives” who can use their expertise in the industry to maximise the airport’s potential.
“At a time when people are complaining about council cuts, can we leave millions and millions of pounds in this asset?” said Coun Oliver.
“In 2007, Leeds-Bradford Airport was sold to Bridgepoint, a private operator, for £145million but the councils retained a special share in the airport, to protect its name and continued operation as an air transport gateway for the Yorkshire region.
“The local authority shareholders, principally Bradford and Leeds Councils, pledged to spend their share of £58million each on their priorities of ‘education and regeneration’.
“Likewise, Newcastle Airport should be run by real executives, expert in the airport sector, not secretive councillors who have little knowledge of the industry and who do not report back to their respective councils.”
A spokesman for the authorities said the airport was a huge asset to the region, supporting thousands of jobs and contributing hundreds of millions of pounds to the region’s economy.
The spokesman said: “We have recently overseen a successful refinancing process that has enabled us to significantly reduce the level of external debt in the business, which has also reduced interest payments.
“The law required the executive decision on the refinancing deal, future partnering arrangements and related shareholder matters be taken by the respective cabinets of the LA7 authorities.
“These matters were considered in confidential session because the details being discussed were of the utmost commercial sensitivity and disclosure of them could have prejudiced the entire process.
“Each council exempted the decision from their call in procedures, in accordance with their constitutions, because the delay in implementing the decision would prejudice the transaction.
“The successful refinancing of the airport and the selection of AMP Capital as the new partner provides strong evidence that the airport is an extremely attractive investment.”