Britain sells off state companies

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The British government is expecting to raise at least (STR)548 million (about a state-owned North Sea exploration and production company.

The decision to sell by tender 51 percent of Britoil shares has been attacked by the Labour Party opposition as ''a bonanza for city slickers.'' But Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher defends the move as a further plank in her policy of ''privatising'' important segments of British industry now owned and operated by the government.

The sale will raise the sum already realized by selling off state holdings such as British Aerospace, and Cable and Wireless, to more than (STR)1 billion. And the government is preparing to extend its sales of such holdings. Early next year British Gas Corporation's oil assets, worth at least (STR)500 million will probably be sold by tender. Mrs. Thatcher is also pledged to give the public the right to buy shares in British Airways.

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The decision to switch a controlling interest in Britoil into the private sector reflects Mrs. Thatcher's conviction that too much state control of industry is bad for the country. She has given instructions that small investors receive a good deal. There is a ''loyalty clause'' built into the share offer - if an investor holds on for three years, he gets one bonus share for every 10 held. And sale by tender is meant to ensure that a good price is gained for the shares. But critics allege that large institutions will derive the main advantage, since various duties and charges tend to discourage the private investor wanting only a limited stake in a company.

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