A state-backed review into female entrepreneurship is to be rebranded by the government as part of efforts to cut ties with the former NatWest chief executive Alison Rose, months after pushing her to resign over a scandal linked to Nigel Farage’s bank accounts.
The “Rose review” is to be renamed after the banking executive was asked by the department for business and trade to leave the project, and the next stages for the initiative are expected to be announced within weeks, the Guardian can reveal.
Rose was appointed by the Treasury in 2019 to lead the eponymous programme, which aims to identify barriers for female entrepreneurs and close the gap with their male counterparts.
But the name change is the Tory government’s latest attempt to distance itself from Rose, who ministers put pressure on to quit this summer after NatWest Group’s row with the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.
The controversy started when Coutts – the NatWest-owned private bank for the ultra-wealthy – planned to shut Farage’s bank accounts, and snowballed after Farage obtained internal documents that showed the bank had concerns over his political views. The scandal escalated when it emerged that Rose had discussed Farage’s case with a BBC journalist.
She has since been forced to forgo £7.6m in pay from NatWest, though independent lawyers hired by the bank concluded she had made an “an honest mistake” in speaking with the BBC and that concerns over Farage’s political views were not the driving factor in the decision to shut his accounts.
The business department asked her to step down from the Rose review shortly after her resignation from NatWest, and effectively put the scheme on pause in the summer.
A business department email, which was sent to the Rose review’s board members and seen by the Guardian, said a final decision on the scheme’s new name would be left to its next chair, who has yet to be appointed by the business secretary, Kemi Badenoch.
“We have advised that consideration of a new brand to our work on women’s enterprise should wait for the new chair to be in post and should be taken in consultation with you all,” the email said. “Communications work using the Rose review brand will be paused for the time being, for example on LinkedIn and through the newsletter.”
The business department said it would not be sharing its shortlist for chair candidates, even with board members, in order to “preserve [Badenoch’s] freedom of action”.
The business department also plans to split the top position, and hire an additional “champion” or “ambassador” for women’s enterprise who would serve for one to two years, alongside the chair – who will probably come from a financial services company.
Badenoch has not informed the review’s board members of a preferred candidate, and is understood to be facing the added challenge of finding someone whose business can foot the review’s bill – which had previously been covered by NatWest. Some board members were left with the impression that the future of the review was coming down to “cold hard cash”, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.
The government has not yet made any public statement, but is expected to announce next steps in early January.
Rose said in a statement that she was “incredibly proud of the Rose review and the great progress that has been made”, and urged the government to push forward with its work. “It is vital for the UK economy that the good work done to date by the Rose review is built upon and I hope the government and all those involved will continue to focus on supporting female entrepreneurs. It would be a huge, missed opportunity if they didn’t do so,” she said.
Rose spent 27 years working her way up from a graduate trainee position to become NatWest’s first female chief executive in 2019. She has not taken another job since leaving the banking group.
She noted that nearly 200 banks, venture capital businesses, private investors and financial services companies had become signatories of the review. “While clearly much still needs to be done to unlock the potential of female entrepreneurship – which represent a £250bn revenue opportunity for the country – we are seeing positive momentum.”