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LONDON-Chancellor Gordon Brown has dismissed suggestions from MPs that his plans to raise €44.9 billion ($55.5 billion) from the sale of government assets by 2010 could not be achieved. Brown, who has responsibility for government economic and financial policy, is the second most powerful man in Britain after the prime minister. He announced plans last week to raise the money from the sale of assets including landmark properties owned by the government for centuries.

Giving evidence to MPs on the Treasury select committee, Brown said the government had already raised €50.6 billion ($62.5 billion) in sales during the first seven years of a Labour government and would now be stepping up the pace of disposals. Brown admitted the new figure was an “ambitious” target and “increase over existing plans.”

“That is, in my view, realistic,” he said. “It is our objective to get £30 billion (€44.9 billion) in asset sales and we will get it in my view.” The task would be made easier by his plan to sack more than 100,000 civil servants from their posts and rendering government buildings vacant. “Obviously, when you are having this big reduction in civil service posts, properties become available, land becomes available.”

Brown also said that the government’s national asset register was being updated “to give departments incentives to manage their assets.” Current government estimates value the asset base at €916 billion ($1.13 billion). He has also asked Sir Michael Lyons, who is advising ministers on relocating of 20,000 civil servants out of London, to work with each department to rationalise their use of property and land and, where necessary, arrange sales and disposals.

Asset disposals could be the form of straight sales or they could be structured around sale-leasebacks on portfolios. Ministers have long believed that owning property is not the business of government and can be more effectively managed by the private sector. But this time, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are keen to raise capital to fund social housing, transport and regeneration projects.

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