Business Secretary Vince Cable says it is “pretty unrealistic” to think the Government’s stake in Royal Bank of Scotland will be sold off within the next five years.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, his comments appear at odds with Prime Minister David Cameron who has said he wants the sale to start “as soon as possible” and RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton who said in October that a sale could get under way before the next election in 2015.
Cable says: “I don’t think it would be sensible for the Government to set a rigid timetable, but given where we start from I think it is pretty unrealistic to think of RBS going back into private ownership this Parliament or probably within five years.”
The Government owns 83 per cent of RBS.
Pressure has been increasing on the Government to break RBS up into a good and a bad bank, a move now being investigated for the Government by UK investment bank Rothschild.
Cable says: “I think there is a very strong argument for saying that the bank got too big and indeed that was the source of its undoing. But we are having to balance the benefits of breaking up the bank [and] the potential benefits for competition [with] the significant costs, particularly in terms of disrupting IT systems.
“My colleagues in the Treasury are doing very detailed work on that cost-benefit calculation, because there is no simple yes or no answer.”
The Financial Times reports that Cable is also considering imposing a levy on businesses which fail to pay suppliers. It comes after months of pressure to get firms to sign up to a voluntary payment code.