* Royal Mail share price up sharply since sale last Oct
* Opposition, unions accuse government of botching sale
* Two parliamentary committees to quiz bankers, ministers
By Neil Maidment
LONDON, April 25 British government ministers
and bankers responsible for the sale of Royal Mail will face
another round of questioning by lawmakers next week over whether
the state postal operator was sold off too cheaply.
Last October, the government sold 60 percent of Royal Mail
at 330 pence per share, ending 500 years of state
control and raising 2 billion pounds ($3.36 billion) for the
However, the firm's share price has since risen by as much
as 87 percent, offering quick profits for big banks and City
investors and drawing heavy criticism from trade unions and the
opposition Labour Party who say the government botched the deal.
That view was reinforced this month by a National Audit
Office (NAO) report which said taxpayers had been short-changed
by at least 750 million pounds.
On Tuesday, British Business Secretary Vince Cable will face
lawmakers for a third time to defend the sale price, appearing
before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee alongside
fellow minister Michael Fallon.
Separately, parliament's Public Accounts Committee will quiz
Martin Wheatley, chief executive of the Financial Conduct
Authority, and his senior official William Amos on Monday on how
the sale was handled. It will question the bankers on Wednesday.
William Rucker, chief executive of Lazard, which
advised Britain on the float, will be grilled on its role,
alongside James Robertson and Richard Cormack of UBS
and Goldman Sachs, the two banks that led the sale.
It will be their second time to appear before lawmakers.
Also facing questions on Wednesday will be Martin Donnelly,
Permanent Secretary for the Department for Business, Innovation
and Skills, and management from Shareholder Executive, which
looks after government stakes in businesses.
While committees do not have statutory powers to enforce
their conclusions, they are often influential in shaping future
work and their critical focus on the Royal Mail sale has already
proved an embarrassment to the government.
In its April 1 report, the NAO criticised the government's
dependence on advisers during the process and questioned the
incentive given to Lazard, which was to secure a sale and was
not dependent on the value achieved.
The amount raised in the sell-off, which followed three
failed attempts to privatise Royal Mail in 20 years, has been
defended by ministers and bankers, who have said long-term
investors would have walked away if the offer price had been
raised at a time when the firm faced the threat of strike
Both have also dismissed pre-sale pitches from several banks
that valued Royal Mail's equity at as much as 8.5 billion
pounds, well above its eventual 3.3 billion float valuation. The
ministers and bankers say the pitches were flawed due to a lack
of detailed information.
Royal Mail's shares traded at 525 pence early on Friday,
still 59 percent above its offer price, valuing the business at
around 5.3 billion pounds.
($1 = 0.5960 British Pounds)
(Editing by Gareth Jones)