Blackstone out of RBS race

US private equity firm Blackstone and the Wellcome Trust have failed to make the shortlist of interested parties bidding for 318 Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) branches.

The joint offer submitted by the buyout house and the charitable foundation was “the least competitive” of five final bids, sources confirmed to City A.M. last night.

It is understood Banco Santander, BBVA, National Australia Bank and Virgin Money are still in the race for the £1bn assets. RBS is expected to decide which potential buyers will proceed to the due diligence phase in the next two weeks. Although the shortlist could feature all four remaining parties, one more bidder may be weeded out.

Competition has been fierce for the branches, being sold under the revived Williams & Glyn brand, because they offer a serious banking foothold on the UK high street.

RBS is being forced to divest them under European Union rules on state aid after it was bailed out by the taxpayer during the financial crisis.

It is understood RBS’ first priority in the sale process is to find the best fit for its staff working at the branches. Price and execution risk are the next most important factors to the 83 per cent state-owned Scottish lender.

Santander is viewed as the likely winner due to its financial clout.

Blackstone and RBS declined to comment.