Northern Rock

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 21st November 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 3:34 pm, 21st November 2011

That was a lame response to my statement. The previous Government presided over the failure of financial regulation and irresponsible banking culture that led to the collapse of Northern Rock. Now we have to deal with their legacy, and that includes the agreement that they struck with the European Commission requiring Northern Rock to be sold by 2013. Given the hand we were dealt by the previous Government, we had to do three things: get the best deal for the taxpayer, for the consumer and for Northern Rock and the north-east. The deal that we announced last week did just that.

The hon. Gentleman asked about proceeds. As we have said, this is a one-off transaction, and the proceeds will go towards paying down the debt. He asked whether it would have been better to hold on to Northern Rock longer. The reality is that Northern Rock is currently loss-making, and it is expected to make losses in the first part of next year. The best outcome for Northern Rock is to be acquired by somebody who wants to use the base in Gosforth to expand the business and offer a better deal to consumers and the staff of Northern Rock. David Fleming, the Unite trade union official, said:

“The treasury’s decision to sell Northern Rock to Virgin Money marks a significant moment in the history of this north-east based financial institution. After three years of turmoil and upheaval for the workforce at Northern Rock, Unite hopes that today will be the start of a secure future.”

Let me deal with Virgin Money’s capital position, which the hon. Gentleman raised. Virgin Money has clearly set out to be a strong and dependable partner. Its core tier 1 capital ratio is 15%, which is much higher than that of many existing high street banks, which averages about 10%. Of course the FSA will approve the capital structure and will have to give its approval of the transfer of ownership, and hon. Members should welcome that support.

On mutualisation, I made it clear, as did the Chancellor, that we were open to offers from existing mutuals to buy Northern Rock for a stand-alone remutualisation, but no firm bids were made in the final round. No one came forward with a well worked-out plan on how Northern Rock could be remutualised on a stand-alone basis, and that is why we took the decision we did. It was in the best interests of the taxpayer, the consumer, the north-east and Northern Rock to sell the business to Virgin Money.