Government sell off of Royal Bank of Scotland shares at near £2bn loss ‘value for money’, says watchdog

The sale of Government shares in RBS in 2015 was "value for money" despite landing the taxpayer with

The sale of Government shares in RBS in 2015 was "value for money" despite landing the taxpayer with losses of nearly �2 billion, according to the public spending watchdog. Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The sale of government shares in Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in 2015 was 'value for money' despite landing the taxpayer with losses of nearly £2bn, according to the public spending watchdog.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) into the controversial sale of a 5.4% stake nearly two years ago revealed overall losses on the sale reached £1.9bn.

It added that while details of the sale were leaked into the market around an hour before the official announcement, there was no impact on the sale price.

The NAO concluded the sale was 'well planned and organised and represented value for money'.

The sale came under heavy criticism at the time after the government offloaded its first tranche of shares in RBS at a 52-week low.

There was also speculation over leaked information after shares plunged 8% in the three days before the sale as hedge funds bet against RBS.

The report comes just days after RBS agreed a £4.2bn settlement in the US over claims it mis-sold toxic mortgage bonds in the run-up to the financial crisis.

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It marked one of two major long-awaited settlements with US regulators, which need to be cleared before the Government can begin selling down the remainder of its 72% stake in RBS.

It was originally estimated that the 2015 share sale saw losses of £1.1bn on the price paid under the £45.5bn bailout of RBS at the height of the financial crisis.

But the NAO said, taking into account costs of financing the rescue, losses on the stake sale soared to £1.9bn.

Despite this, the NAO said UK Financial Investments (UKFI) - the body charged with managing Government stakes in banks - handled the sale well.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: 'The sale was consistent with HM Treasury's overarching objective to not be a permanent investor in UK financial institutions, and UKFI's objective to execute a strategy for disposing of investments in an orderly and active way.

'It was executed as skilfully as could reasonably be expected, and on the basis of the preparation, process and proceeds of the transaction, UKFI achieved value for money.'

UKFI was grilled by MPs on the Treasury Select Committee in 2015 over the share sale, with worries over a leak.

The NAO said UKFI found evidence of a leak just before the sale, which 'did not affect the taxpayer negatively', adding that short-selling ahead of the sale was 'not out of the ordinary'.

The Government has since fully sold its stake in Lloyds Banking Group, but is likely to be holding on to its stake in RBS for some time.

RBS is yet to start talks with the Department of Justice over a settlement on mortgage-bond mis-selling in the US, while it is also waiting for an EU decision on a plan to avoid selling its 300 Williams & Glyn branches.