The government still owns a majority of one of the UK’s biggest banks. Instead of using that stake to impose any kind of public accountability or social responsibility on NatWest, the Tories are pushing ahead with the sell-off of the government’s stake – at a massive loss to taxpayers. Yet the labour movement is silent.
Despite a majority of its shares being owned by the government, in the last four years NatWest Group has provided over $13bn of funding for fossil fuel projects, 46th worst of all the many thousands of banks in the world.
It recently announced plans to distribute £3bn to its stockholders. The “bonus pool” for its bankers in the first half of 2021 was £142m. When its chief executive Alison Rose was appointed in 2019 her basic “salary” started at £1.1m.
Meanwhile, NatWest has led the league table for UK branch closures, shutting down 1,084 since 2015 – just under 30% of all bank branches closed. In 2021 it has continued to close branches and cut many hundreds of jobs.
On these and many other levels the government has simply allowed – or encouraged – the Natwest bosses to get on with their environmental and social vandalism.
The “public” stake in NatWest has been cut from 78% in 2015, when George Osborne began the privatisation process, immediately losing £1bn for taxpayers, to 55% now. Rishi Sunak wants to cut it to 40% over the next year, at the cost of multi-billion pounds losses. The government’s Office of Budget Responsibility estimates that by the time NatWest is fully returned to private ownership in 2025, the total loss to the Treasury since the 2008 bail-out will come to £39bn.
The Labour Party is saying nothing about this, not even on its usual “Tory incompetence” tack. Neither are trade unions, despite the unanimously agreed TUC policy for public ownership of the banks and high finance. Neither is the socialist left, much of which is extremely reluctant to raise the question of public ownership of finance.
The labour movement should demand cancellation of the sell-off, and government imposition of democratic public control and social and environmental responsibility on NatWest, as the first steps in creating a democratic public banking system.