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Written Statements

Volume 691: debated on Monday 22 March 2021

Written Statements

Monday 22 March 2021


NatWest Group: Disposal of Government-owned Shares

I can today inform the House of the disposal of approximately £1.1 billion-worth of Government-owned NatWest Group (NWG, formerly Royal Bank of Scotland, RBS) shares, representing 4.86% of the company, by way of a directed buyback transaction.

Approximately £1.1 billion-worth of shares were sold to NWG in a single bilateral transaction on 19 March 2021.


It is Government policy that where a Government asset no longer serves a public policy purpose, or that purpose may be more efficiently realised with the asset in private ownership, the Government may choose to sell that asset, subject to being able to achieve value for money. This frees up public resource tied up in the asset which can be deployed to achieve other public policy objectives.

The Government are committed to returning NWG to full private ownership, now that the original policy objective for the intervention in NWG—to preserve financial and economic stability at a time of crisis—has been achieved. The Government only conduct sales of NWG shares when it represents value for money to do so and market conditions allow. This sale represents a further step forward for Government in exiting the assets acquired as a result of the 2007 to 2008 financial crisis.

Format and Timing

The Government, supported by advice from UK Government Investments (UKGI), concluded that selling shares to NWG, in a single bilateral transaction, represented value for money.

Share buybacks are a common practice undertaken by companies looking to efficiently deploy their excess capital. On 6 February 2019, NWG obtained shareholder authority to purchase shares held by Government at market price. This authority was renewed at subsequent NWG annual general meetings in April 2019 and April 2020.

This is the third sale of NWG shares undertaken by the Government, following previous disposals in August 2015 and June 2018. This is the first sale of shares via an off-market share sale directly to the company.

The sale concluded on 19 March 2021, with NWG purchasing a limited number of its Government-owned shares. A total of c. 591 million shares—4.86% of the bank—were sold at the 18 March 2021 closing price of 190.5 p per share. The reduction in the Government’s shareholding is less than the percentage sold following the cancellation of shares by NatWest. Following this transaction the Government’s shareholding will stand at 59.8%.

Details of the sale are summarised below:

Government stake in NWG pre-sale


Total shares sold to NWG

590,730,325 million (4.86%)

Sale price per share


Share price at market close on 18/03/2021


Total proceeds from the sale

£1,125,341,269 billion

Government stake in NWG post-sale


Fiscal impacts

The net impacts of the sale on a selection of fiscal metrics are summarised as follows:



Net sale proceeds

£1,125,341,269 billion

Retention value range

Within the valuation range


Public sector net borrowing

There may be future indirect impacts as a result of the sale. The sale proceeds reduce public sector debt. All else being equal, the sale will reduce future debt interest costs for Government.

The reduction in Government’s shareholding means it will not receive future dividend income it may otherwise have been entitled to through these shares.

Public sector net debt

Reduced by £1,125,341,269 billion

Public sector net debt

Reduced by £1,125,341,269 billion

Public sector net financial liabilities


Public sector net liabilities



Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Project Gigabit

Gigabit broadband is being rolled out rapidly, from one in 10 households in 2019 to almost two in five today. The UK is on track for one of the fastest rollouts in Europe and for half the country to have access to gigabit speeds by the end of this year.

Gigabit broadband will accelerate our recovery from covid-19, stimulate high-growth sectors like tech and the creative industries and level up the country, spreading wealth and creating jobs across the UK.

The Government want to deliver nationwide coverage of gigabit-capable broadband as soon as possible and are confident that the private sector will deliver to the most commercial 80% of the country by 2025.

To support this, the Government are implementing an ambitious programme of work to remove barriers to broadband deployment.

The Government want to see regulation that promotes investment and competition in new networks.

We want to drive commercial investment and stimulate suppliers to go further into harder-to-reach areas, by using subsidies to stretch commercial activity even further.

We are targeting a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage by 2025 but will seek to accelerate rollout further to get as close to 100% as possible.

In December 2020, we published a consultation, “Planning for Gigabit Delivery in 2021”, asking for input from local and devolved Government and telecoms providers to help inform how best to use public subsidy to deliver these objectives.

Ninety six organisations across the telecoms industry and local government responded. Their feedback has been instrumental in developing our delivery plan.

Last week we launched Project Gigabit Phase One Delivery Plan outlining our delivery approach that recognises this environment and provides space for commercial investment, but also drives subsidised deployment in harder to reach areas.

More than 1 million hard-to-reach homes and businesses will have next generation gigabit broadband built to them in the first phase of our £5 billion Government infrastructure project.

Up to 510,000 homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumber-land, South Tyneside and Tees Valley will be the first to benefit as part of Project Gigabit.

Contracts for these first areas will go to procurement in the spring with delivery in the first half of 2022.

In June the Government expect to announce the next procurements to connect up to 640,000 premises in Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

The successful gigabit broadband voucher scheme is also being relaunched with up to £210 million to give people and communities in eligible rural areas the opportunity to work with registered suppliers to get gigabit speeds.

In addition, Project Gigabit is making up to £110 million available to connect public sector buildings—such as GP surgeries, libraries and schools—to lay vital infrastructure to these hard-to-reach communities and stimulate further commercial investment.

The UK has some very remote locations that may be too expensive to build a gigabit-capable broadband network to, even with substantial public subsidy.

Thanks to completed or pending Government-funded projects, less than 0.3% of the country or less than 100,000 premises are likely to fall into this category.

For these premises, which are mainly located in remote and isolated locations in Scotland and Wales, and some national parks in England, a call for evidence has been launched to explore the barriers to improving their broadband and how innovative new technologies might help change this.

This could lead to the Government encouraging industry to use new wireless equipment, low-orbit satellites or high-altitude platforms to beam faster connections to far-flung homes and businesses.

The Government have already made investments in wireless, satellite and hybrid-fibre technologies, and continues to explore emerging technologies in this area. Some of these technologies are also gigabit-capable and eligible for Project Gigabit funding today.

Finally, in support of the whole gigabit ambition, the Government have also provided an update from the Barrier Busting Task Force. Set up in 2017, the task force has been identifying and addressing the barriers preventing the fast, efficient and cost-effective deployment of gigabit-capable broadband and improved mobile coverage, including next generation 5G technology.

The Barrier Busting team will be taking forward, with other Government Departments, a number of legislative and non-legislative measures in the coming months. This includes addressing issues around permitted development rights, gigabit broadband for new build homes, and flexible street works permits in England.

We are also consulting on whether further amendments to the Electronic Communications Code are necessary to support deployment. This ambitious programme of works builds on the numerous successes since the team was formed including passing the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act, which recently received Royal Assent.

We welcome last week’s announcement from Ofcom, which provides the telecoms sector with regulatory certainty for the next five years and clear direction for the longer term, encouraging competitive build in the majority of the UK while securing a commitment from Openreach to connect 3.2 million premises in the least competitive 30% of the country.

Ofcom are, in line with the Government’s Statement of Strategic Priorities, regulating to promote competition and giving clear incentives for investment in new gigabit-capable networks. This framework will allow network builders to make a fair return on their investments and provide the long-term certainty they need as they roll out gigabit networks across the country, while continued price controls on superfast anchor products will ensure consumers are protected from excessive prices.

I will place a copy of the Project Gigabit Phase One Delivery Plan, the Very Hard to Reach Call For Evidence and the Barrier Busting Task Force: Next Steps in the Libraries of both Houses.


Technical Issues in Charity Law

My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Baroness Barran, has made the following statement:

Today the Government have published their response to the recommendations made by the Law Commission in its report “Technical Issues in Charity Law” published in September 2017. The report addresses a number of technical issues in charity law which were first raised by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts in his 2012 review of the Charities Act.

I thank the Law Commission for their hard work on this topic and welcome their well-considered and detailed report. The Government have carefully considered the recommendations and are accepting the vast majority. The Law Commission’s report is, at first sight, highly technical; however the recommendations which the Government are accepting will make it simpler for charities to achieve their charitable purposes in an effective, sustainable and impactful way. The recommendations also maintain important safeguards to ensure the best use of charities’ resources.

The recommendations will include measures to improve:

Simplifying the processes by which charities can amend their governing documents.

Reducing the costs and simplifying the rules governing disposals of land by charities.

Enabling charities to use their permanent endowment for social investments helping charity incorporations and mergers.

Providing trustees with certainty about costs before the Charity Tribunal.

I am pleased that the Law Commission’s recommendations also have support within the sector, and from the Charity Commission, the independent registrar and regulator for charities in England and Wales.

The Government will look to bring forward legislation to implement these recommendations when parliamentary time allows.

The Government’s response has been published on:

Copies of the response will also be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.



Transport for London Funding Deal

The Government and Mayor of London have agreed to extend the current Transport for London funding deal. The deal was due to run out on 31 March 2021. However, things have changed since we set the end of March for the next review of support to TfL. The extended deal will continue to support the capital and the transport network until 18 May 2021, when a new funding deal will be put in place.

The roadmap set out by the Prime Minister to cautiously and safely reopen society and our economy means we can better understand the potential recovery in passenger demand, ensuring we deliver a sensible and appropriate deal in the future. As a result, and given the mayoral election timetable, we have therefore agreed to roll over the existing funding deal until 18 May on the same terms as now, providing certainty over the pre-election period.

Together, the Government and the newly elected Mayor will agree a new funding deal after the elections in May 2021. By this point non-essential retail and other parts of the economy should be open and transport demand on the network will be considered when formulating a future settlement.

The extension comprises two additional funding payments totalling £260 million with a top-up grant available based on actual passenger revenues. This will take total Government support for TfL to more than £3 billion since March 2020.

Support to TfL has always been under the condition that the network must make efficiency savings so it can reach financial sustainability as soon as possible. Those conditions will also form a part of the additional funding payments announced today.

The Government are committed to supporting London and the transport network on which it depends, and will commence discussions for a further funding deal as soon as the mayoral elections are concluded. Support for London needs to be balanced with the national recovery and supporting the national transport network as a whole. Since March 2020 the Government have spent £11 billion supporting the running of the national transport network apart from that directly provided to TfL, while continuing to spend money on vital infrastructure projects to level up the national transport network outside of London.