'We were right to be cautious' on Royal Mail - Cable

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Business Secretary Vince Cable has defended the timing of the sale of Royal Mail following a report by the National Audit Office that said the government did not secure the best value for money.

The report's findings were brought to the Commons by shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna in the form of an urgent question on 1 April 2014.

If the government was prepared to "declare their privatisation a success", Mr Umunna said, "they must think we're all fools".

"This report delivers a damning verdict on the government's botched privatisation and it has left payers disgracefully short-changed to the tune of hundreds and millions of pounds," he continued.

He accused the government of "refusing to entertain the notion that it could succeed in public hands" and called on the secretary of state to apologise.

Mr Cable told the House: "The last thing I intend to do is apologise. What I do intend to is to refer to what the report actually said as opposed to the spinning and the froth that has been generated around it."

He drew attention to the NAO's conclusion that the government had succeeded in bringing private capital commercial disciplines to the organisation and that it was now less likely that the taxpayer will have to provide financial support.

He wanted MPs to recognise that there had been "a very real risk that the flotation could fail" and that in this context, "it is absolutely right and sensible that we were cautious".

But Conservative MP Brian Binley said the prime movers of the bid had misled the department in an "immoral" way that had allowed them to "make a killing".

His concern was echoed by Labour chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Adrian Bailey, who said the role played by a "very select group of banks... absolutely stinks".

The secretary of state insisted the process by which his department received advice had been "rigorous".

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