Huge 'Tell Sid' NatWest share sell-off to the public could start in June, MPs told

Millions of Britons could have the opportunity to buy shares in NatWest from June, MPs have been told.

Holger Vieten, who is leading the sale for Treasury-owned company UK Government Investments, told a group of MPs that it has not got a fixed date for the retail offer which was announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt during his autumn statement last year.

“At this point we have been asked by the Chancellor to explore a retail offer… we are in the development and design stage, looking at various options as to how that could be implemented,” he told the Treasury Select Committee.

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Mr Vieten said it had appointed advisers, including at Barclays and Goldman Sachs, to work out details including the structure, size, and how retail investors might apply.

Construction site workers walk past a branch of a NatWest bank in central London on November 24, 2023. (Photo by Ben Stansall / AFP)Construction site workers walk past a branch of a NatWest bank in central London on November 24, 2023. (Photo by Ben Stansall / AFP)
Construction site workers walk past a branch of a NatWest bank in central London on November 24, 2023. (Photo by Ben Stansall / AFP)

Mr Vieten agreed that the sale could occur in the summer at the “very earliest”, agreeing that that means June. But he added the timeline for the process is yet to be agreed.

When Mr Hunt announced the intended move in his autumn statement in November, the Chancellor specifically referenced the ‘Tell Sid’ advertising campaign of the 1980s that encouraged the public to buy shares in British Gas.

Mr Hunt said: “I am also progressing further capital market reforms to boost the attractiveness of our markets, and the UK one of the most attractive places to start, grow and list a company.

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"As part of this I will explore options for a NatWest retail share offer in the next 12 months subject to supportive market conditions and achieving value for money. It’s time to get Sid investing again.”

Sky News has reported that M&C Saatchi, whose founders Lord Maurice Saatchi and his brother Charles were famously involved in advertising campaigns for Margaret Thatcher, have been appointed by the Treasury to promote the planned share sale.

NatWest is currently without a permanent chief executive following the departure of Dame Alison Rose over her briefing to a BBC journalist about Nigel Farage’s finances.

The job is currently being done on an interim basis by Paul Thwaite, the former head of NatWest's commercial banking business, until July.

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Charles Donald, chief executive of UK Government Investments, told the Treasury Select Committee he agreed that conducting the retail offer would be difficult if a permanent chief executive is not in place.

He said: “I think they need to provide clarity to the market on their proposals around either confirming the interim chief executive or a process appointing a permanent chief executive for the market to be comfortable.”

The Treasury still owns 39 per cent of NatWest following a £46bn Government bailout of the bank during the 2008 financial crisis when it was known as Royal Bank of Scotland.

It has been gradually reducing its stake, which stood at 84 per cent at its height, and intends to have sold it entirely by 2026.

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Last May, it sold around £1.26 billion of NatWest shares back to the bank via a directed buyback.

The Government described the move as a “major milestone” in the journey to returning to full private ownership.

The government has said it will only dispose of its NatWest shareholding when it represents value for money to do so and market conditions allow.

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