Kerching! Government pockets a tidy £747m selling Northern Rock to Virgin

17 November 2011

bransonThe Government has announced this morning that it is selling the beleaguered Northern Rock plc to Richard Branson’s Virgin Money. The Treasury explained the deal as being “ in the best interests of the taxpayer, secures the long-term future of the company and will increase competition in the banking sector.” However, selling at a loss of at least £400m may not be everyone’s idea of a great deal*

The Chancellor actually announced back in June that Northern Rock was for sale, and the main point of the sale is, apparently, to stimulate competition in the retail banking market. He wants Branson to give RBS, Lloyds, HSBC, Barclays and Santander a run for their money. Literally.

But even after the deal, the new and engorged Virgin Money will still be a tiny mouse a tenth of the size of the big banks on most measures. But never let it be said that being a small underdog has ever stopped Virgin before.

So let's hope the deal does what it sets out to do, as otherwise it looks like the Government have been sold a bum deal. We, the taxpayers injected £1.4bn into the bank when it was saved by the Government, and today’s £747m deal, with the potential for an extra £280m more over the next few years, gives us a paper loss of somewhere between £650m and £400m. Ouch.

However, the deal will also safeguard jobs in the North East, as Virgin have agreed to make Newcastle the operational HQ for Virgin Money.

In addition, Virgin Money has committed to

- No further compulsory redundancies (other than already announced) for at least 3 years

- Retaining the current number of branches, with a view to eventual expansion, and

- Extending support for the Northern Rock Charitable Foundation

The Government will definitely receive £747 million in cash the sale date, with the potential in the future to receive over one billion pounds in total, plus an expected £50 million or so of cash within six months of completion. The Government also show they were not born yesterday, with further post-sale considerations payable in the form of a further £150m  capital instrument and an additional cash consideration of £50-80 million should Virgin Money make a future profitable IPO or sale in the next five years.

The sale will not affect current retail banking customers of Northern Rock, who will carry on their banking as usual. They do not need to take any action and can continue to operate their accounts and contact Northern Rock as they do now.  There are additionally no changes to terms and conditions as a result of this announcement.

Note also that the Government has no plans to sell Northern Rock Asset Management, which, together with Bradford & Bingley, was integrated under a single holding company, UK Asset Resolution. The state also still owns tens of billions of pounds of old Northern Rock mortgages, and depending what happens in the housing market as those mortgages are repaid, the paper loss could be wiped out. Or get worse.

* although it may be Richard Branson’s idea of a good deal.


  • Dick
    So how long before it becomes Zavvi Money, the place for savvy customers?
  • W.Banker
    It is funny (in an ironic way) the good bank that has just been Virginised is loosing money and the bad bank that we still own is making money. Apart from selling too early and crystallising our losses from the bailout, it was the right part of the old Northern Rock to sell. There is more upside in the bad bank.
  • Sicknote
    Kerching! The Govt spunks away 400 million of tax payers money. More Labour legacy we have to live with.
  • Yue
    The tories sell off our assets for a loss. Big surprise. More tory ineptitude. This government will be the end of us all. And still no regulation over the banks, such a surprise.
  • Sicknote
    You're funny Yue. When you say this government you must mean the coalition government that was forced into existence when the last administration flushed the countries finance down the toilet. I wasn't aware that the tories were the government myself. How many more previous administration bailed out banks I wonder will have to be sold off at a loss?
  • Dick
    @Yue The question is - sell off now and lose £400M (or possibly £650M), or leave it another year or two and lose even more. We were always going to make a loss, simply because it was a bail out. At least selling it off and letting it be run by someone actually wanting to run a bank, means we get some money back now. They will probably make money, but that is because they want to put effort into running it as a bank.
  • JonB
    The irony is that Virgin wanted to buy NR before the bail-out and the Tories were keen about it then. It looks like they got their wish, albeit after a 4 year wait.

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