Stephen Hester wants to see speedy start to RBS sell-off

Hester: urging government to sell its shares in RBS as soon as possible. Picture: PA

Hester: urging government to sell its shares in RBS as soon as possible. Picture: PA

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The UK government should not delay too long kick-starting the sale of its shares in Royal Bank of Scotland, the group’s chief executive said yesterday.

Stephen Hester said it would benefit everyone for the government to begin selling down its 82 per cent stake in the semi-nationalised lender as quickly as possible.

His comments came a day after UK Financial Investments, the body managing taxpayer stakes in banks, told a Treasury committee that some shares could be sold at a loss if the aim of getting value from the full share disposal programme was met.

Hester, speaking on the sidelines of the British Chambers of Commerce’s annual conference, said: “The faster the government starts selling its stake, the better for everyone.”

The taxpayer pumped £45 billion into RBS, which nearly foundered during the 2008 financial crash. But the state is still sitting on billions of losses as the shares remain way below the average 50p buy-in price.

In a speech to the BCC conference, Hester admitted that RBS sometimes fails to give loans to good businesses.

“We will also make mistakes – we made funding available to over 234,000 businesses in 2011, and even a 90 per cent approval rate means 26,000 customers will be declined. Some of these will be in error,” the RBS boss admitted.

However, he said many businesses were paying down debt, and that “almost £30bn of available credit lines” were not being used by RBS’s customers.

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