First sale of government stake in Lloyds is a success

But can private investors cash in on the deal?

Just a few days ago the government formally announced the imminent stock market flotation of state-owned British postal stalwart Royal Mail, as discussed by Spear’s last week.

In a move reminiscent of the mass privatisation of the Thatcherite era, this week the sale of another major organisation – albeit only part-owned by the state – has begun. Earlier this morning it was announced that the initial sale of taxpayer-owned shares in Lloyds Banking Group to institutional investors has raised £3.2 billion for the Treasury, representing a small profit (but not after inflation).

However, unlike the case of Royal Mail’s whopping 378-year-long history of complete state ownership, the government has only owned just over a third (38.7 per cent) of Lloyds Banking Group for the past five years, following its £20bn bailout of the failing bank in 2008 as a result of the Lloyds’ disastrous acquisition of Halifax Bank of Scotland.

The government is selling a 6 per cent share of it stake, reducing its ownership of the bank to around 32.7 per cent. While this may appear to be a small chunk of its holding, the Coalition can hope to cash £3.3 bn for the benefit of taxpayers on breaking the deal.

In a statement the Treasury said: "We want to get the best value for the taxpayer, maximise support for the economy and restore them to private ownership. The Government will only conclude a sale if these objectives are met."

Shares in Lloyds closed at 77.36p on Monday, which is well above the price of 61p that Chancellor George Osborne regards as the break-even level. During Lloyds' bailout the government bought shares at an average price of 73.6p.

Since the average market price at the time was 61p, the government booked the difference as a loss and added it to the national debt. BBC business editor Robert Peston says that based on Monday's share price the taxpayer should "more-or-less" get its money back.

The sale of this banking giant, laid low by the credit crunch, has been hailed as the UK’s second biggest share placing ever. It is, according to the Financial Times, not only a milestone in Lloyds’ recovery but also the sign of a momentous turnaround in the UK’s fortunes in the wake of the financial crisis, which brought the banking industry to the brink of collapse in October 2008.

The FT also reports that Lloyds’ shares, which are expected to be sold at 75p, have soared more than 90 per cent in the past 12 months, racing past the government’s 73.6p "in-price" for the first time in three years last month. It came as no surprise, therefore, that the government set the wheels in motion for the reprivatisation process.

And, naturally, investors are keen to muscle in on the action. The Capital markets bankers involved in the transaction reported a swift take-up of Lloyds shares, with one US hedge fund said to have submitted a $1bn order.

"Investors are making a call on the UK," said one banker on the deal. 'This level of demand would not be there if people weren’t confident in the UK’s broader economic recovery.'

The good news is that individual investors could also soon get their hands on some Lloyds shares, since the initial placement is expected to be followed by a second sale – potentially involving retail investors – in the first half of 2014.

Royal Mail’s flotation has created some interesting private investment opportunities through publicly traded shares, so let’s hope we can bank on getting access to some Lloyds stocks, too.

This piece first appeared on Spear's Magazine.

Lloyds TSB. Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.