* British ministers say no regrets over Royal Mail sale
* Lawmakers say deal priced too low to avoid flop
* Minister Cable accepts need to consider other sale methods
By William James
LONDON, April 29 British ministers in charge of
the privatisation of Royal Mail said on Tuesday they had
no apologies to make over criticism that it was sold off too
cheaply, but said they may look at different ways to sell off
public assets in future.
The government sold 60 percent of the postal firm last
October at 330 pence per share, ending 500 years of state
control and raising 2 billion pounds ($3.36 billion) for the
Royal Mail's share price has since risen by as much as 87
percent, provoking heavy criticism from lawmakers and trade
unions who say the deal was mishandled and allowed big banks and
financial speculators to turn a quick profit.
But on Tuesday Business Secretary Vince Cable and Business
Minister Michael Fallon rebuffed stiff criticism from a panel of
lawmakers who said the government had priced the shares too low
because they were afraid the deal would flop.
"Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but on the basis of the
facts we had, the information we had, the knowledge we had of
the company, this was a successful transaction," Cable said. "We
don't apologise for it, and we don't regret it."
A report by the government's spending watchdog earlier this
month said the sale had short-changed taxpayers by at least 750
Cable said the threat of strike action and uncertainty over
the health of the U.S. economy had suppressed the price buyers
were willing to pay, and that a failed sale would have seriously
damaged the value of the company.
The Communication Workers Union, which represents the
majority of Royal Mail staff, said Cable's claims were utterly
ridiculous and called on him to resign.
Cable, who was making his third appearance before the
parliamentary panel to defend the sale, conceded that other ways
of disposing of large state assets needed to be considered.
"The lesson to be learned from this whole exercise is 'is
this the best system for getting the maximum value for taxpayer
assets?'" Cable told the business, innovation and skills
committee. "We accept the need to look at different methods."
Cable said sealed-bid auctions and trade sales - where
individual stakes are sold to other firms and not publicly
traded - could be considered as methods to sell off other
assets. He did not rule out further public share sales.
On Wednesday bankers from UBS and Goldman Sachs
, the two banks that led the floatation, will give
evidence in parliament on their role in the sale.
Britain's financial regulator said on Monday there were no
grounds for an investigation into the Royal Mail sale, rejecting
calls from a separate panel of lawmakers for a closer look at
the reasons behind the sharp share price rise.
(Editing by Pravin Char)