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British Royal Mint Up for Sale
By Richard Giedroyc

The British government, motivated by the need to raise cash to fund a bailout of banks in financial trouble, is looking to sell off just about everything short of the Brooklyn Bridge. The only reason the Brooklyn Bridge is not on a short list is that the bridge is in the United States, where charlatans have been selling it off for years. It wasn't immediately clear if perhaps the London Bridge might be under consideration.

Among assets the British government is looking in earnest to sell are its stake in British Energy, the Royal Mail, Channel 4, the Met Office, British Waterways canal property and the British Royal Mint.

Buying the BRM sounds like a good deal. You get lots of real estate (35 acres) in Llantrisant, Wales, a modern manufacturing facility, and a business that dates back about a thousand years. Nobody knows for certain, but it is estimated the business, plant, and equipment could be worth �100 million or about $150 million US. It's got a great track record. During 2008 the BRM produced about 1.3 billion coins while making an operating profit of �10 million. This includes production contracts for coins and medals for 60 foreign countries representing a 15 percent share of the world coin manufacturing market. The mint has 700 employees. It is protected by the Ministry of Defence Police.

Andrew Stafford is the current chief executive at the BRM. Appointed to the post in 2007, Stafford's reaction to the possible privatization of the mint was to say, "We would welcome any change in our status that would enable us to make the business more successful."

Unfortunately the employee union has a different opinion. A PCS public services union spokesman was recently quoted as saying the proposed sale is like "selling off the 800-year old family silver."

While the reaction of mint employees and their union was not an immediate concern for the British government, should the mint be sold it is an issue that will not go away.

Privatization of the BRM has been considered since 1999, however at that time it was, in the words of the web site www.WalesOnLine.com, "then considered to be too archaic an organization to be turned over to private ownership."

According to the March 15 The Sunday Times newspaper, the British government's goal is to raise a total of �35 billion to fill what it calls "the dwindling public purse" by selling off just about anything that isn't nailed down. Chancellor Alistair Darling has appointed the Rothschild banking and investment firm to prepare the sale of the BRM. We can only hope the crown jewels won't go next!

The March 15 London newspaper the Financial Times reported, "The Royal Mint is now the main target for a sell-off, according to a person close to the negotiations."

The Financial Times article continues, "While only one of the three operations UK, overseas and commemorative coin production could be targeted for privatization, it is more likely that the entire mint will be moved out of the public sector. An announcement in principle is expected to accompany the budget next month, although the transition to private ownership will be lengthy because of the necessary changes in legislation, said another person involved in the process."

The BRM was added to a short list of things to sell in November 2008. The list consisted of nine government assets that were politely termed to be "alternatives to public ownership." Since De La Rue Ltd., a private organization that is listed within the FTSE 250 (Financial Times Stock Index) stock exchange, prints all British bank notes, the sale of the BRM would then mean all British currency production would be in private hands.

The March 16 issue of Time magazine said, "In almost every sense it is a tragedy that the British government would have to part with such historically important assets." Maybe so, but if De La Rue isn't interested in buying the BRM then who is?

Just think, and Thomas Jefferson had to consider if US coinage should be contracted out to Matthew Bolton.

 



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