Financial News

  • 12 December 2013, 8:43

M&S Chairman To Aid Ministers' 20bn Sell-Off

The chairman of Marks & Spencer (M&S) is being tapped up by ministers to assist with plans to raise 20bn from state-owned asset sales by the end of the decade.

Sky News has learnt that Robert Swannell, a City veteran, is to be named as a director of the Shareholder Executive (ShEx), the body which oversees Government-owned companies such as the Royal Mint and Urenco, the uranium processor.

Mr Swannell's appointment as a non-executive director of ShEx is expected to be announced within days.

The body, which is part of Vince Cable's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), is also poised to appoint a former investment banker from JP Morgan, the firm which told the Government that Royal Mail could be worth nearly 10bn before its privatisation, to its board.

Robin Lawther, who worked in the Wall Street giant's Nordic operations and then its asset management business until this year, will also become a non-executive director of ShEx, insiders said on Wednesday.

The new appointments will come a week after George Osborne, the Chancellor, delivered an autumn statement in which he vowed to accelerate the pace of Government asset sales.

The remaining student loan-book, the Government's stake in Eurostar, the Royal Mint, the Met Office and other bodies are all expected to be prepared for disposal as ministers look to fund huge infrastructure investments in the coming decades.

Mark Russell, the ShEx chief executive, appeared alongside Mr Cable at a BIS select committee hearing last week, during which he defended the price at which the Government had sold 60% of Royal Mail.

In its annual report, published last month, ShEx insisted that it had shown "real strengths" in delivering the Royal Mail flotation.

"In challenging circumstances, and following years of failed attempts to privatise Royal Mail, ShEx delivered a sale of 60% of the shares in Royal Mail to a mix of long-term high-quality institutional investors and almost 700,000 members of the public," it said.

"Nearly 2bn was raised for the Exchequer, and the Government still holds a 30% stake in a company that has, as expected, increased in value following the introduction of private sector ownership."

ShEx will be responsible for supervising the sale of the taxpayer's remaining 30% shareholding in the postal operator.

During presentations to Government officials earlier this year, JP Morgan suggested that the company, which will enter the FTSE-100 index following a quarterly review later on Wednesday, could be worth more than 9.5bn including debt.

M&S and BIS declined to comment, while JP Morgan could not be reached.

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