The UK government’s decision to sell the Green Investment Bank to Australian bank Macquarie for £2.3bn has been attacked by critics including the Liberal Democrats and Greenpeace as “politically dubious” and a “disaster”.
A consortium led by Macquarie, which also includes the bank’s European Infrastructure Fund 5 and the Universities Superannuation Scheme, a UK pension scheme for university professors, agreed to buy the GIB, which was established in 2012 by the coalition government to fund green infrastructure projects.
Macquarie has put up £1.7bn to buy the bank, with a further £600m in future funding commitments for existing GIB projects.
The privatisation drew strong criticism from environmental groups and opposition parties. Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said the sale will set the UK back on reaching its climate targets and mean more new jobs in the sector will go elsewhere.
“If the government picks up its pace, the UK could be a world leader in renewable and green technology,” he said. “But selling a great British success story, which levered private money into eco-projects, to a controversial Australian bank known for asset-stripping, is a disaster.”
Ed Davey, former Liberal Democrat secretary for energy and climate change, said: “Selling the Green Investment Bank is environmentally irresponsible, and on the eve of an election is politically dubious. The government clearly hopes to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.”
A government spokeswoman said it had always aimed to sell the GIB by the spring.
Macquarie said it was committed to the GIB’s target of investing £3bn in green energy projects over the next three years, either directly or by arranging capital from other investors. Its first priority is the UK but it will also look for investment opportunities in Europe and Asia. Macquarie has already invested in one of Germany’s largest windfarms.
However, the former Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable questioned what would happen after the three-year period. He told the Guardian that the sale was “very regrettable” and that “in the long term [the GIB] will simply disappear into the commercial part of Macquarie”. He also accused the government of selling it too cheap, arguing that in the future some of its assets will be worth far more.
The climate change and industry minister, Nick Hurd, said the sale had been backed by the GIB’s independent board, and ensured that the £1.5bn taxpayer investment had been recouped with a £200m profit.
Hurd said: “This deal gives us the best of both worlds. We have secured fair value for the UK taxpayer. GIB has a well-funded new owner that is committed to the Bank’s green mission, with a track record of success in green investment and an ambition to grow the business.”
The GIB has stakes – either directly or via funds managed by third parties – in 85 projects that vary from an energy efficient street-lighting project in Barking and Dagenham and windfarm in Dumfries and Galloway, to a biomass plant at Port Talbot and an energy-from-waste plant in Belfast. The bank also manages the world’s first offshore wind fund, with assets of £1.1bn.
The government is holding on to £135m of the GIB’s assets, which the institution will continue to manage until they can be sold for the best return to the public purse.
Macquarie will combine the GIB with its UK renewable energy investing business, and claimed that the deal would create one of Europe’s largest teams of green energy investment specialists, with well over 100 people. It pledged to keep the GIB’s brand and London and Edinburgh offices with a “substantial staff presence” in the Scottish capital. The business will continue to be led by senior GIB executives.
Macquarie sought to allay the concerns by pointing to the “special share” arrangements with the GIB’s five independent trustees, including an annual report on its green performance, an annual industry day for stakeholders and green reporting.
The GIB will manage or supervise more than £4bn worth of green infrastructure assets and projects. It will set up three new investment vehicles: an offshore wind investment vehicle, a low-carbon lending platform and a green infrastructure investment platform.
Daniel Wong, head of Macquarie Capital in Europe, said: “We understand the responsibilities that come with this ownership, and we are fully committed to maintaining its green purpose as we grow the business.”