Santander bids for 320 RBS branches

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The Independent Online

Banco Santander formally submitted its bid for nearly 320 Royal Bank of Scotland branches yesterday – but the Spanish lender faces a possible fight with unions over job losses.

The branches, which are being sold under the revived Williams & Glyn's brand, initially attracted five others suitors – Virgin Money, National Australia Bank, the Spanish bank BBVA and a consortium involving the Wellcome Trust and private equity firm Blackstone.

However, those rivals gradually fell away and Santander's offer – reported to be in the region of £1.8bn – is now the only one on the table. The sale of the RBS branches was demanded by the Government as the price for the billions of pounds of state aid it pumped into the bank, which is now 84 per cent owned by the taxpayer. In a statement to the stock exchange, Santander, which already owns Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley's deposit business, confirmed its bid but warned that it was "not possible to say when the tender process will conclude".

It has long been seen as favourite to acquire the branches, not least because of the synergies it will be able to extract from combining them with its existing British operations. But Rob MacGregor, national officer for the Unite union, said selling to Santander would lead to job losses and decrease competition.

"This move by Santander to buy 318 RBS branches is yet another nail in the coffin of the diverse financial services sector which consumers have long benefited from," he said.

"Simply on the basis of market competition on the high street, this sale is bad news. There is a danger that soon British customers will only have one provider to choose from.

"Where does this daily consolidation in the [banking] sector leave the coalition Government's commitment to a diverse financial services industry?"