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Tuesday 24th
posted by Richard Bagley in Britain

VOTE-CHASING Chancellor George Osborne tossed away millions in public cash yesterday by flogging more of the country’s Lloyds bank shares days before it pays shareholders for the first time since 2008.

The Treasury netted £500m from the 1 per cent sale that took Britain’s stake in the firm to 23.9 per cent, down from 40 following its £20 billion crisis bailout in 2009.

It is the first of a string of sell-offs that come as Lloyds is returning to profit.

It is poised to pay its first dividend payment since August 2008 on Friday — as well as hundreds of millions in bonuses.

Mr Osborne said he was “delighted” at the sale, which means the state has now cashed in £8bn.

“This is further progress in returning Lloyds Banking Group to private ownership, reducing our national debt and getting taxpayers’ money back,” he said.

Analysts expect Lloyds to pay out up to a penny a share on profits of around £2bn.

At that price the shares sold yesterday would earn a tidy £7m.

Socialist Economic Bulletin analyst Michael Burke said their sale “compounds the original scandal of the bank bailout.”

He said: “Private speculators gambled and lost and then demanded not only that they were bailed out but also that they received enormous bonuses too.

“The much-derided state is actually the entity that saved them.

“Now that it is recording profits once more it’s back to the private sector to reap the rewards.”

The state’s shareholding is expected to net a £178m dividend windfall for taxpayers this week, but that return will shrink in future.

The Chancellor plans to sell off another 5 per cent within months in the hope of raising £3bn to boost the nation’s finances prior to May’s election.

But Mr Burke demanded: “Lloyds should be kept in public hands to avoid future blow-ups, and directed away from speculation and towards productive investment.”

Leap economic analyst Andrew Fisher said: “After being bailed out Lloyds sacked 30,000 workers — and now it has returned to profit has proposed a further 9,000 job cuts.

“Workers and taxpayers are left picking up the pieces as the gravy train rumbles past again.”