The man charged with overseeing the taxpayer's investment in Britain's banks insisted yesterday that no targets had been set for the first sell-off.
John Crompton, the chief operating officer of UK Financial Investments, said: "We are not acting under direction regarding the price at which we can sell or the rate at which we must deliver proceeds.
"Unlike the position 25 years ago, the Treasury is very cautious about assuming proceeds from transactions which are inherently uncertain in making its projections for public finances. So, while sales of these stakes would clearly allow a reduction in borrowing, there are no projections, no assumptions and hence no targets to hit. This greatly reduces the risk of our undertaking transactions that do not represent the best value for the taxpayer."
His comments appear to be aimed at soothing market fears that minister could seek an early and politically motivated pre-election sale.
However, many expect UKFI to "test the water" with small share offerings soon, given the recent sharp recovery in banking share prices which has left the taxpayer's stake in Royal Bank of Scotland showing a paper profit. The state's stake in Lloyds is also close to profit but sale plans would be complicated by possible rights issues by both.