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Britain unveils huge asset sale to cut debt

world Updated: Oct 12, 2009 23:11 IST

AFP
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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced today a 16-billion-pound sale of state assets including a high-speed railway and a betting service to cut soaring debt caused by the economic crisis.

Brown, facing a likely election defeat next year by David Cameron's Conservative Party, wants to halve Britain's deficit in four years.

But opposition politicians derided the asset sale as a political gimmick and compared it to a "national car boot sale" and "selling the family silver."

The planned disposals, which also include a 33-per cent stake in European uranium consortium URENCO and the Student Loan Company, would raise the equivalent to USD 25.4 billion.

"We plan a sale of assets to deal with our debt issues and... 16 billion of assets will be sold within the next two years," Brown told financiers during a speech in central London.

Britain's debt increased after an expensive bailout of the troubled banking sector.

The public deficit is widely forecast to strike 175 billion pounds this year as the nation's finances also face pressure from a recession, which has slashed taxation revenues.

As well as announcing the sale, Brown's speech was also a bid to seize back the political initiative on the issue from the Conservatives, who are well ahead in the opinion polls with a general election due by June.

It included a string of attacks on Conservative policies, a taste of the electioneering flavour, which is likely to dominate British politics in the coming months.