The government has begun its sell-off of shares in Royal Bank of Scotland (LON:RBS), taking their 79% stake to just below 73%.

The shares were sold at 330p a share, raising £2.1bn. However the sale was well below the 500p per share the government paid when the UK bailed the bank out after the financial crisis, prompting criticism of the move.

The government sold off 5.4% of its stake last night, slightly more than the 5.2% expected by analysts. The government could have sold far more, given the high interest from investors. Around 60% of the shares were sold to hedge funds while, geographically, just under half were bought by investors in the UK.

RBS chief executive Ross McEwan said: “I’m pleased the government has started to sell down its stake.

“It’s an important moment and reflects the progress we are making to become a stronger, simpler and fairer bank. There is more work to be done but we’re determined to build a bank the country can be proud of.”

However, Ian Gordon, a banking analyst at the stockbroker Investec, said he was “perplexed” by the timing of the sale: “Last night’s disposal at 330p achieved a new 2015 low and arguably sold the taxpayer short.”

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