Qatar could invest $14.9bn in UK infrastructure
Key discussions held to set up fund for infrastructure investment
Qatar has begun talks with the UK government to invest up to $14.9bn ( £10bn) from the gas-rich Middle Eastern state into key infrastructure projects in Britain, reports The Financial Times.
Officials and ministers from both countries have held discussions over what schemes the Qataris could invest in, and whether a specific fund could be set up.
The potential projects include energy plants, road and rail projects and even the Thames “super-sewer” under London.
Qatar has become a major investor in British assets, with a growing portfolio ranging from Harrods and the Shard to Heathrow airport.
However, setting up a dedicated fund to finance government-backed schemes would take Qatar’s investment in the UK to another level.
Among the specific schemes discussed is the new £14bn nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset planned by EDF, the French energy giant.
EDF has been seeking new investors in its new-build nuclear programme since Centrica quit its joint venture last month.
The government is also keen to shoehorn overseas investment into new gas plants and wind farms as it closes down various coal-fired power stations.
David Cameron hosted a delegation at Downing Street in January with both the Emir of Qatar and the Qatari prime minister as guests of honour, where he indicated he would welcome a major injection of Qatari investment in the British economy.
However, discussions are still proceeding over how any fund would be structured, and what return the Middle Eastern investors would receive.
Some involved in the negotiations say the Qataris have asked for an effective “first refusal” over some of Britain’s biggest infrastructure projects when they are on the drawing board. Others point out that having a “first call” over a government project would be illegal under European Union law, according to one Whitehall source.
The figure of $14.9bn has been cited, although the timescale for this expenditure has not been agreed upon. Finsbury, which provides public relations to Qatar, refused to comment.
The talks have taken place as the government seeks to push through more major energy and transport schemes without an enormous outlay of taxpayers’ funds.