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NatWest share sale abandoned as election campaign derails plans

Natwest
Natwest

A multibillion pound sale of NatWest shares has been kicked into the long grass due to the upcoming general election.

Jeremy Hunt unveiled plans last autumn to offer the public the chance to buy shares in the bank – with an advertising campaign to launch this summer.

The Chancellor’s campaign was due to echo the “Tell Sid” privatisations of the Thatcher era, and was hoped to create a buzz among the public.

But the Treasury has confirmed the sale of NatWest shares will now not go ahead because of election plans.

A spokesman told The Telegraph a “retail offer will not happen during the election period”, putting the plan dead in the water until after a new Government is formed.

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Mr Hunt wanted to sell off the Government’s remaining 38.6pc share of NatWest to put the Treasury in a healthier financial position ahead of the general election.

The City was anticipating for the sale to go ahead in June, with preparations in advanced stages. This has now been scuppered following Rishi Sunak’s snap general election announcement last week.

Labour’s stance on the NatWest sale is not known and the party has not hinted whether it would revive the scheme should it claim the keys to Downing Street in July.

The NatWest share-sale plan echoed the privatisations of the 1980s, when state-owned monopolies such as BT and British Gas were floated on the stock market and shares offered to the public.

The “Tell Sid” advertising campaign for the British Gas flotation came to symbolise the privatisation drive.

Jeremy Hunt told the Commons last year “it’s time to get Sid investing again”, but the plan has failed to get out of the starting blocks.

Shares in NatWest were likely to be offered at a discount to the price at which they trade on the stock market, offering savers the chance of a quick profit.

An offer of NatWest shares to the public would have formed part of the Government’s plans to eliminate its entire holding in the bank by 2026.

“The Government is committed to exiting its shareholding in NatWest, subject to market conditions and sales representing value for money,” official Autumn Statement documents stated.

“The Government intends to fully exit by 2025-26, utilising a range of disposal methods including accelerated bookbuilds [sales to institutions] and directed [share] buybacks with NatWest.”

The Government became the majority shareholder in what was then the Royal Bank of Scotland during the financial crisis, when it injected billions of pounds into the lender to prevent its collapse and the economic chaos that ministers feared as a consequence.

On Friday, NatWest shares were trading at 308p per share, down from a peak of 326p on May 15.

NatWest’s shares have rocketed by almost 40pc since January, as the bank recovers from last summer’s “debanking” scandal when Nigel Farage said he had been stripped of his account at Coutts, the NatWest subsidiary for the wealthy, because of his political views.

The scandal led to the departure of Dame Alison Rose, NatWest’s chief executive.

In February, Mr Farage said the bank was “not fit for a public sale of shares” until it had put its house in order, and said it would be “very, very difficult indeed” for a share sale to go ahead if the bank was in the middle of a messy and highly public legal battle with him.

A Treasury spokesman said: “A retail offer will not happen during the election period”.