Taking over Northern Rock is not a ticket for a “gravy train”, the man leading Virgin’s bid for the stricken lender said last night as he tried to counter suggestions that the consortium would make a killing at the taxpayers’ expense. Financial Times

Sir Brian Pitman made his comments as the Virgin consortium this week took pole position in the race to control Northern Rock after Olivant, the private equity group, dropped out. It is competing with a restructuring proposal from the bank’s own management team as the only alternative to nationalisation.

It is not often that a bidder attempts to minimise the prospect of a healthy return on an investment. But Sir Brian is sensitive to opposition MPs who say that the government has been too generous in offering help with a financing package to repay the £25bn Bank of England loan.

Sir Brian, who transformed Lloyds TSB during his 14 years as chief executive, dismissed these claims. 'If you could see the numbers...the idea that this is a killing is a joke,' he said yesterday. The financing package meant Virgin would now have to accept a lower return, he said.