National Australia Bank has set the seal on its determination to exit the UK in messages to shareholders at its annual general meeting in Brisbane.

 

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Andrew Thorburn, addressing his first annual meeting since becoming chief executive this summer, told shareholders: "Our intention is to exit our UK banking business. We are examining a broader range of exit options, including those provided by public markets so that we can concentrate on our businesses in Australia and New Zealand. We will continue to invest in our core businesses where we have real competitive advantage."

It was reported last month that NAB has appointed JP Morgan to advise on a public flotation of its Clydesdale Bank business, which includes Yorkshire Bank, early in 2015 but there has been no confirmation from Melbourne. This week the group announced the sale of another tranche of the Clydesdale's troublesome property loan book.

Chairman Michael Chaney said: "Over the year we continued the successful rundown in the UK commercial real estate portfolio, which was transferred out of the UK banks in 2013. Part of the portfolio was sold during the year and...last week we announced the sale of another £1.2bn of higher risk UK real estate loans."

The group revealed that the portfolio has now been reduced from the original £5.6billion two years ago to £836m.

Mr Chaney told shareholders: "Our UK business, Clydesdale Bank, produced higher operating profits before allowing for the conduct provisions for redress of payment protection insurance and interest rate hedging products. All UK banks have experienced these conduct issues but it is disappointing nevertheless. The group's strategic focus is on our Australian and New Zealand franchises which are in good shape."

NAB employs 7100 in the UK, of whom 3700 work for the Clydesdale in Scotland.

Following the first announcement from Australia, Alex Flynn, a Unite spokesman, said: "We are seeking clarity over the proposed sale of Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks, particularly on the timetable and the form that would take.

"Over the last 18 months 1,400 people have lost their jobs across these two brands and we have seen a number of branch closures. These people need certainty."

Mr Flynn said it was the banks' workforce which was behind the improvement in profits and performance disclosed by NAB, with cash earnings doubling last year to £158m, and bad debts halving to £80m.

David Thorburn, the Clydesdale's chief executive, has said that while efficiency gains will continue there is no plan for "major restructuring ".

NAB at the time stressed its "disappointment" that its two UK banks had recently doubled their provisions for the mis-selling of PPI and complex business loans to over £800m.

A year ago the bank was fined pound £8.9m and had to repay customers £42m, for mortgage calculation errors.

Mr Thorburn has admitted the possibility of another regulatory fine in 2015, in relation to the bank's PPI handling process which was revamped in August following intervention by the Financial Conduct Authority.

The Herald revealed earlier this week that the Clydesdale is apologising to claims management companies for "delays" in recruiting and training enough new staff to process the new and re-submitted PPI complaints.

Despite the Australian bank's urgency in trying to sell the banks through a 2015 flotation, NAB has said that its PPI claims liability "remains uncertain".

The Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks have also had to extend their review of mis-sold complex loans to small businesses, following scrutiny by the Treasury Select Committee.

Committee member John Thurso MP has said he regards NAB's plan to sell the banks as "a one-time opportunity for negotiation" over the extent and nature of the review.