The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, faces demands to explain why he failed to consult the Royal Mint's managers before he quietly ditched the privatisation of the 1,000-year-old coin maker.
The Royal Mint's chairman, Peter Warry, astonished the Treasury Select Committee yesterday when he claimed that he had only once discussed the long-mooted sell-off with senior officials during the 15 months that he has held the role. Even this "wasn't in any depth", Mr Warry said.
Royal Mint, based in Mid Glamorgan, is ultimately owned by the Treasury but was granted commercial freedoms in 2009 by becoming what is known as a "trading fund". This was considered a prelude to a lucrative full privatisation.
However, in December Mr Alexander denied that the Royal Mint, which makes coins and medals for an average of 60 countries each year, was on the list of government assets that would be sold off for £20bn by 2020.
Mr Warry agreed that the announcement was "a bolt from the blue" when quizzed by the committee chairman Andrew Tyrie, who criticised the "complete absence of scrutiny of privatisation".
There have previously been reports that the sale could have earned the taxpayer £100m, but Mr Warry conceded that the Mint itself had not calculated what it might be worth. Mr Tyrie blasted the managers' apparent "lack of interest" in the process.
Mark Garnier, a Tory MP who is also on the committee, told The Independent: "We will certainly be following this up. There has to be a huge question over why Danny Alexander would make such a huge pronouncement without asking the managers of the Royal Mint what they thought."