Santander 'was the sole bidder for RBS outlets'

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Banco Santander of Spain was the only bidder for the network of 318 branches being sold by Royal Bank of Scotland in a deal likely to be worth about £1.8bn, a source familiar with the disposal said yesterday.

RBS, which is 83 per cent owned by the state after being bailed out in the financial crisis, is selling off the branches under the revived Williams & Glyn brand. The bank is being forced to sell several assets as a consequence of taking state aid. The deadline for bids was on Monday.

Santander would significantly increase the size of its business in Britain if it won the auction, adding 1.8 million retail customers and 5 per cent of the UK small and medium-sized (SME) business market it has targeted for growth. It would also show Santander is still expanding despite problems at home.

The Spanish bank is seen as the front-runner to win the auction. It could pay more for the RBS branches than its rivals could offer because Santander would save millions by incorporating them into its existing UK business.