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A sneaky coalition sale with sweeteners
UK oil pipeline, Issue 1392
IN ONE of the last acts of the dying parliament, the coalition sneaked out the news that it has sold the Government Pipeline and Storage System (GPSS), a highly strategic fuel distribution network which supplies oil, particularly jet fuel, to UK military bases and airfields, to a foreign buyer.

The deal, revealed via a parliamentary written answer when no one was paying attention, has £237m of sweeteners attached.

The coalition announced its intention to sell the GPSS soon after it came to power. Its plans for the 1,500-mile network of pipes and depots which connect oil refineries to installations such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, Heathrow, Gatwick and “significant military airfields”, were tucked away at the end of the 2012 Energy Bill and received no attention until highlighted by Eyes 1332 and 1334.

Emergency renationalisation
Subsequently the Eye revealed a host of issues being overlooked by politicians: the parlous state of ageing GPSS infrastructure after years of government penny-pinching on maintenance; concerns raised by the Health and Safety Executive and government lawyers; the risk of private owners failing to deliver to the RAF in a crisis, requiring emergency re-nationalisation; and vulnerability of the system to a recent wave of thefts from oil pipelines by organised crime.

But the government pressed on. Just before MPs rose for the last time before the election, it revealed that the Spanish firm Compañía Logística de Hidrocarburos (CLH) had bought the GPSS for £82m, sweetened by a ten-year contract from the Ministry of Defence which will rent space in the now privately-owned system for £237m, “ensuring national resilience is not compromised”.

Russian stand-off
Really? Foreign purchases of UK energy assets have not always worked out well. In 2007, Dutch company Petroplus bought the huge Coryton oil refinery in Essex, but closed it in 2012 after going bust. Also in 2007, Spanish company Iberdrola (unrelated to CLH) bought Scottish Power, one of the “big 6” energy firms, now rated Britain’s worst for customer service, and about to close Longannet, Scotland’s largest power station (Eye 1387).

Coincidentally, RAF demand for jet fuel is rising in 2015 after years of decline, due to the stand-off with Russia over Ukraine. Significantly more interception missions are being flown against intruding Russian bombers around our coastline; and the most intensive programme of Nato exercises for many years is being mounted as a show of strength. It is to be hoped the GPSS under new foreign ownership does not go the way of Coryton and Longannet.

More top stories in the latest issue:

More on Specsavers’ attempts to hush up the costly fallout from legal cases in which it was accused of bullying opticians out of their businesses.

Dudley College cuts courses and jobs in the West Midlands, but salaries offered at its Saudi Arabian branch suggest it is swimming in money.

Advertising watchdogs ban a fundamentalist Christian exam board from exaggerating the value of its International Certificate of Christian Education.

Policy wonks cash in as the Cabinet Office ‘Nudge Unit’ is mutualised and becomes Behavioural Insights Ltd – with a £5m Cabinet Office contract.

Dunbar Bank, owned by a group that pays Tony Blair a reported £1m a year, makes 71 customers bankrupt after deciding to pull out of property loans.

NHS England’s decision to delay the release of a life-saving drug is a further cruel blow to victims of the contaminated blood scandal with hepatitis C.

Why Deaf people and sign language interpreters are on tenterhooks over a delayed announcement affecting public sector sign language provision.

Trade union Unite now joins the battle on behalf of disabled residents and co-workers in the unique Yorkshire village community of Botton.

The mystery island visitor who turned out to be spying for those associated with the weirdo Barclay twins, owners of nearby Brecqhou.

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Next issue on sale: 26th May 2015.

Private Eye Issue 1391