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Ordinary investors will be awarded ‘bonus’ shares in NatWest Group if they hold onto stock they acquire in the taxpayer-backed bank, under a plan expected to be finalised by ministers later this month.

Sky News has learnt key details of the options being explored by the Treasury for a multibillion pound retail offer of NatWest shares, including a likely £10,000 cap on applications from members of the public.

Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, announced in last year’s autumn statement that he would explore a mass-market share sale “to create a new generation of retail investors”.

Since that point, further buybacks by the bank and stock sales by the government have reduced the taxpayer’s stake to around 28% – worth about £7bn at NatWest’s current valuation.

The retail offer will be launched alongside an institutional placing of shares in the bank which could in aggregate lead to the Treasury’s stake falling to as low as 10%, sources indicated this weekend.

If investor demand turns out to be greater than expected, the reduction could be even more substantial, they said.

That would put the government within striking distance of returning NatWest to full private ownership 16 years after the lender was rescued from the brink of collapse with £45.5bn of public money.

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This weekend, sources said that options under active consideration by Treasury officials included a minimum investment of £250, to encourage a wide participation in the retail offer.

A ceiling of £10,000 was “likely”, they said, mirroring a 2015 Treasury plan – which was subsequently abandoned – for a retail offering by the Treasury of Lloyds Banking Group shares.

The NatWest offer is also expected to award one bonus share for every ten bought by retail investors and retained for at least a year, the sources added, although they cautioned that final details such as the bonus share ratio and precise investment thresholds could still be amended by officials.

A modest discount to the bank’s prevailing share price will also be applied to encourage take-up.

People close to the decision-making process said that Mr Hunt and Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, were being kept closely informed on the plans.

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Depending upon market conditions, they said an announcement to launch the offer could come in late May or early June.

The green light will be subject to any political turbulence in the aftermath of this week’s local elections, they added.

Shares in NatWest have risen by more than 20% over the last year despite the turbulence surrounding the debanking row involving Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader.

Dame Alison Rose, the bank’s former boss, stepped down last year after it emerged that she had spoken to a BBC journalist about the closure of Mr Farage’s accounts.

She has since been replaced by Paul Thwaite, whose transition from interim to permanent boss of NatWest was confirmed earlier this year.

NatWest also has a new chairman, Rick Haythornthwaite, who replaced Sir Howard Davies at its annual meeting last month.

Mr Farage, who has threatened to launch legal action against the bank, recently declared his fight with the lender “far from over”.

“For a retail NatWest share sale to work – as outlined by Jeremy Hunt in the Budget – investors must have confidence in the bank,” he said.

“My debanking row with them is far from over.

“They acted in a politically prejudiced way against me and then deliberately tried to cover it up.

“Until they provide full disclosure and apologise for their behaviour, why should any retail customer trust them?”

The government’s stake in NatWest has been steadily reduced during the last eight years from almost 85%.

Sky News revealed earlier this year that ministers had drafted in M&C Saatchi – the advertising agency founded by the brothers who helped propel Margaret Thatcher to power – to orchestrate a campaign to persuade millions of Britons to buy NatWest shares.

NatWest, which changed its name from Royal Bank of Scotland Group in an attempt to distance itself from its hubristic overexpansion, was rescued from outright collapse by an emergency bailout that Fred Goodwin, its then boss, likened to “a drive-by shooting”.

A spokesperson for NatWest said “decisions on the timing and mechanic of any offer are a matter for the Treasury”.

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Indian pharma group readies swoop on anti-smoking aid Nicotinell




Indian pharma group readies swoop on anti-smoking aid Nicotinell

An Indian pharmaceutical group is closing in on a deal to snap up Nicotinell, the anti-smoking aid, from Haleon, its FTSE-100 parent company.

Sky News has learnt that Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy’s Laboratories could be within days of acquiring the brand and a number of lesser-known European products from Haleon.

Sources said a deal was likely to be announced as soon as this week.

It was unclear on Sunday how much Dr Reddy’s might pay for the Haleon-owned assets, although it is expected to be in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

Should it be completed, it will be the latest in a string of acquisitions for the Indian- and US-listed company.

Dr Reddy’s has a market value in New York of about $11.7bn, having been established in 1984.

In Britain, the company has had a presence since 2002, and includes commercial offices and a research and development centre in Cambridge.

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It also operates an active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing site in Mirfield, West Yorkshire.

Dr Reddy’s has been in talks for months about acquiring the Nicotinell brand from Haleon, the over-the-counter products giant spun out of FTSE-100 drug maker GlaxoSmithKline.

Haleon, which has a market capitalisation of close to £29.5bn, is chaired by the former Tesco chief executive Sir Dave Lewis.

GSK sold its remaining stake in Haleon earlier this month.

Haleon owns some of the most recognisable over-the-counter healthcare brands in Britain, including the multivitamin supplement Centrum, Panadol pain relief tablets and Sensodyne toothpaste.

Nicotinell, which is sold in patch, gum and lozenge form, is said to be the second-largest nicotine replacement therapy product globally.

Its prospective sale will come days after Rishi Sunak’s administration failed to pass his flagship anti-smoking bill after he called a surprise summer general election.

Haleon declined to comment.

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FTSE-100 housebuilder Persimmon weighs £1bn bid for rival Cala




FTSE-100 housebuilder Persimmon weighs £1bn bid for rival Cala

One of Britain’s biggest housebuilders is exploring a £1bn takeover bid for Cala Group, a rival player in the sector which has been put up for sale.

Sky News has learned that Persimmon, which has a market value of £4.74bn, is leaning towards submitting an offer for Cala ahead of a bid deadline next week.

City sources said it would be a strong contender to buy Cala, whose homes have a significantly higher average sale price than those of Persimmon.

Insiders expect Cala, which is being auctioned by Legal & General (L&G), to command a price tag of about £1bn.

If Persimmon is successful in the auction, it would mark the York-based company’s biggest acquisition for years.

Under Roger Devlin, its chairman, and chief executive Dean Finch, the company’s share price has rallied by over 20% in the last year.

In a trading update last month, Persimmon said it was on track to deliver growth in new home completions this year to up to 10,500.

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The Cala auction comes amid a general election campaign in which new home provision is expected to figure prominently.

Both main parties are likely to set out new policies to stimulate housebuilding growth, according to sources.

Analysts said this weekend that other housebuilders were also expected to consider bids for the L&G-owned company.

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These could include, they said, Persimmon’s larger rival, Taylor Wimpey, and Avant Homes, which is owned by Elliott Advisors and Berkeley DeVeer.

Persimmon is the UK’s third-largest housebuilder by market capitalisation, behind Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments.

Both Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey were among eight housebuilders named by the Competition and Markets Authority in February over suspicions they had exchanged commercially sensitive information.

A takeover of Cala by another major housebuilder would underline fresh momentum in the industry’s consolidation, after Barratt Developments unveiled a £2.5bn deal to acquire rival Redrow.

The prospective sale of Cala represents the first significant strategic move by its new chief executive, Antonio Simoes.

Bankers at Rothschild are overseeing the auction.

Mr Simoes described Cala as “a very strong business” during an earnings call earlier this year on which he was quizzed about the housebuilder’s future ownership.

L&G took full control of the business in 2018.

Cala reported a slide in half-year profits last autumn, citing a “challenging market”.

The company has a long-term goal to build 3,000 homes annually.

Persimmon and L&G declined to comment on Saturday.

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Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells admits removing reference to Horizon IT system from Royal Mail prospectus




Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells admits removing reference to Horizon IT system from Royal Mail prospectus

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells has admitted to amending the legal document Royal Mail issued to would-be investors before it became publicly owned to remove mention of the flawed Horizon IT system.

Data from the accounting software created by Fujitsu was used to prosecute more than 700 sub-postmasters for theft and false accounting.

Many more victims lost their homes, livelihoods and good reputation to repay non-existent shortfalls.

Now the inquiry set up to establish a clear account of the introduction and failure of Horizon has heard during Ms Vennells’s third and final day of questioning that she removed “at the very last minute” reference to Horizon from the prospectus Royal Mail issued before it was listed on the London Stock Exchange.

A prospectus is a legal and financial document detailing key information for potential company investors.

It was the first time the issue was raised with Ms Vennells.

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Paula Vennells breaks down in tears again

She said: “It was flagged to me that in the IT section of the Royal Mail prospectus, there was reference to – I can’t remember the words now – but risks related to the Horizon IT system… the line that was put in said that no systemic issues had been found with the Horizon system.”

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Ms Vennells wanted the reference removed as, “the Horizon system was no longer anything to do with the Royal Mail group” she said, and contacted the company secretary to have the reference removed.

Based on this action Ms Vennells wrote to a colleague “I have earned my keep on this”.

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She was at the top of Post Office for 12 years and served as its chief executive for seven of those, from 2012 to 2019.

In at times emotional testimony, Ms Vennells said she “loved the Post Office” and worked “as hard as I possibly could to deliver the best Post Office for the UK”.

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