Business Irish

Thursday 24 August 2017

RTE tells Coalition it can't afford to sell assets

STATE COMPANIES

Emmet Oliver

RTE has told the Government there is no scope for the broadcaster to sell any of its assets at this time, including its Montrose headquarters in Donnybrook, Dublin.

In a submission to the Colm McCarthy-led review of semi-states, the broadcaster made it clear that selling Montrose or RTE Network Limited (RTENL) would not be efficient, or save money in the long term.

The broadcaster was asked, like other publicly funded companies, whether it had any assets to sell to help reduce the national debt.

A letter from last September, sent by RTE's financial officer Conor Hayes and released by the Government under the Freedom of Information Act, shows the broadcaster strongly rejected the idea of selling assets.

"RTE has concluded that it does not possess specific assets a disposal of which could meaningfully contribute to a reduction in the overall national debt,'' wrote Mr Hayes.

RTE told Mr McCarthy, the UCD economist, it needed to deal with its own "outdated infrastructure, facilities and analogue equipment at its Donnybrook site''.

The broadcaster said it had its own "renewal'' plan which stretched out to 2025 and would cost up to €350m over this period, including new buildings, infrastructure and fresh equipment. RTE felt, the broadcaster said, that moving to a new location would "result in greater overall capital costs and disruption''.

The most efficient approach was to update and replace the existing facilities at Donnybrook, added Mr Hayes.

In relation to RTENL, Mr Hayes said this company was involved in developing national digital television, as standard analogue transmission would end in December 2012. This will cost RTE €70m, with more than €40m coming from bank debt and the remainder simply coming from RTE's annual cash flows.

Disruptive

"Any disposal of RTENL prior to 2013 would be highly disruptive to the implementation of analogue switch-off,'' said Mr Hayes.

After 2013 the network arm could be sold off, but only if regulator ComReg set up a proper charging regime, he added.

Mr Hayes said the network arm and the Donnybrook centre were needed long term and allowed RTE to deliver its public service broadcasting remit.

RTE is the latest state body to tell the Government it has no assets it can sell. The Revenue Commissioners has delivered a similar message and several government departments have also told the McCarthy group they have few assets worth selling. ESB and Bord Gais remain the two most lucrative assets owned by the State.

Irish Independent

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