Osborne To Stop Short Of Full RBS Break-Up
George Osborne will stop short of ordering a full break-up of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) following a review that will aim to redeploy billions of pounds of capital for lending into the British economy.
Sky News understands that the Chancellor and senior Treasury officials will next week finalise a blueprint for the future of RBS, in which UK taxpayers hold an 82% stake, which avoids the need for a formal vote by independent City shareholders.
The key recommendations of a four-month review led by Rothschild, the investment bank, and BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, are understood to focus on "internal surgery" rather than a wholesale break-up of the RBS group.
They will include the creation of a more formal internal "bad bank", a further reduction in the size of RBS's investment banking operations, a more aggressive strategy to resolve the future of impaired loans, and a number of other asset sales.
An announcement about the outcome of the review, launched by the Chancellor in June, could be made as soon as next Friday, when RBS publishes its third-quarter results.
"He will want to present it as a break-up, but it won't quite be at the most radical end of the spectrum of options," said a source close to the situation.
Treasury and RBS officials cautioned that final decisions had not yet been taken and that the shape of the proposals could yet shift significantly.
The announcement of the restructuring is expected to be made by the bank itself, rather than Mr Osborne.
Under the currently-envisaged plans, the shake-up would involve in the region of £40bn of RBS's bad assets being held within a rebranded non-core asset division, or "bad bank". That figure is at the lower end of a range considered during the review, according to insiders, and roughly corresponds to the size of RBS's existing non-core unit.
It will not require the separation of those loans from RBS by injecting them into an independent taxpayer-owned vehicle, and so will not trigger a vote from which the Government would be excluded under stock market rules.
That will enable Mr Osborne to present decisions about RBS's future as a fait accompli - presuming that he has the agreement of RBS's negating the risk of an embarrassing defeat at the hands of institutional investors.
As Sky News revealed in June, many big RBS shareholders are opposed to a full break-up, arguing that it would be costly, time-consuming and further delay - possibly by years - the sale of the Government's shareholding in the bank.
The bad assets identified by the review largely comprise loans within RBS's Ulster Bank and property lending portfolios, and will be more aggressively run off in the coming months by the bank's executives.
The commitment to accelerate this process may trigger further writedowns to their value, with the bank raising additional capital by selling other assets.
Citizens, the US retail bank, is likely to be floated earlier than a previous target date of 2015, while the international arm of Coutts, the wealth manager owned by RBS, is also a candidate for sale.
It was unclear this weekend whether Rory Cullinan, the executive who has overseen the massive shrinkage of RBS's portfolio of bad assets during the five years since it was bailed out, will continue to run the unit.
One challenge facing Mr Osborne will be the scrutiny of Andrew Tyrie, the MP who chaired the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. In its report earlier this year, it called for radical action to transform RBS into a bank that could support the UK economy.
The resolution of the dispute over the future of RBS, whose shares languish well below the level at which taxpayers injected £45.5bn of equity in the autumn of 2008, will bring relief to RBS managers tired of repeated conflicts between the Chancellor and Stephen Hester, who stepped down as RBS chief executive last month.
Mr Osborne said in June that he would only proceed with a major shake-up at RBS if it delivered clear benefits to taxpayers and the UK economy through increased lending capacity and appetite.
A Treasury official said on Saturday that the Chancellor had been keen to identify a "headline number" that would demonstrate that inflated capacity.
He added that the structural review would be linked to a separate piece of work led by Sir Andrew Large, former deputy governor of the Bank of England, which has been examining the flow of credit from RBS to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).
The views of UK Financial Investments (UKFI), which manages the taxpayer's stake in RBS, will also be important.
James Leigh-Pemberton, the investment banker who on Monday takes the helm of the Treasury agency, was asked by Mr Osborne last year to conduct a review of RBS's structure.
Mr Leigh-Pemberton argued in favour of a more radical break-up of RBS than the Chancellor is expected to favour.
Since becoming RBS's chief executive several weeks ago, Mr McEwan has been working with the management consultancy Bain & Co on a review of RBS's operations and an examination of core client services.
In a memo to staff earlier this month, he said that the location of RBS's bad assets was less important than the bank's need to focus on improving service to customers.
"The future of this company will not be about whether we operate in particular areas or where our problem assets sit," he wrote.
"The future of this company is about how good a job we do for our customers, including those who are having difficulty repaying their loans. And it will be about how well we live up to all our responsibilities, particularly those we have to the UK."
RBS and the Treasury declined to comment.