Five questions answered on the Royal Mail sale

is it “short changing” tax payers?

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has said privatisation of the Royal Mail undervalues the company. We answer five questions on Umunna’s Royal Mail comments.

By how much does the Shadow Secretary think Royal Mail is being undervalued by?

Umunna said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he thinks the privatisation of the Royal Mail undervalues the company by as much as £1bn, with City investors and hedge funds being the biggest beneficiaries of the sale.

He added that the sale is “short changing” tax payers.

When is the Royal Mail being sold?

Shares of Royal Mail will be sold to the public from 15 October. Up to 62 per cent of the business will be sold, with the rest remaining state-owned. A 10 per cent stake has been reserved for Royal Mail employees.

A £750 minimum purchase stake is required by members of the public and a £500 minimum purchase stake by employees.

What else has Ununna said?

He believes the £750 minimum purchase stake is too steep for the public.

"That is a lot of money for most people - it is out of reach for many. Most of the people benefiting from this will be the speculators and the hedge funds,” he told Radio 4.

Labour has said they will not renationalise the Royal Mail if the party got in power at the next election.

What is the current value of the Royal Mail shares?

Initially the government priced the shares at 260-330p, but it is thought they will be sold between 300-330p.

On Friday it was reported that demand for shares is outstripping supply.

What has the government said in regards to the Shadow Business Secretary’s comments?

The Department for Business said: "This is a commercial transaction and government is following normal commercial practice in setting and publicising the share price and delivering value for the taxpayer. The value of Royal Mail will depend on a number of factors, notably the company's on-going financial performance, its future prospects and the level of investor interest."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.