Belfast Telegraph

Christmas cancelled by banks

By Symon Ross

Festive cheer looks like being in short supply at the province’s largest banks, with spending on staff Christmas parties the latest casualty of the financial crisis.

After one of the toughest-ever years for the financial sector, it seems rank and file employees will again be the ones to suffer, with Northern Ireland’s four main banks among the many firms who have cancelled Christmas or reduced subsidies for staff entertainment.

First Trust Bank and Bank of Ireland — both owned by debt-laden parent companies in the Republic — have scrapped Christmas parties altogether.

A spokesman for Bank of Ireland said the bank was “empathising” with customers who have had to cut their own spending.

“We feel it is not appropriate when so many people are not in a position to hold their own,” she said.

Similarly, First Trust said: “Due to the current economic situation First Trust Bank will not be subsidising any staff Christmas parties in 2009.”

Staff at Ulster Bank, which is owned by nationalised lender Royal Bank of Scotland, will still have Christmas parties but not on the scale of previous years.

“Ulster Bank Group has reviewed its employee Christmas entertainment |appropriately in light of the current economic climate. Events are organised at a departmental level and will reflect modest budgets,” it said.

Northern Bank said it does not have a set policy across the company for Christmas parties, but indicated it would not be writing a big cheque for the festivities.

A spokesman for Northern Bank said: “As in previous years our staff at various locations are organising their own festivities, to which the bank will make a modest contribution.”

Employees are unlikely to be surprised their employers’ budgets no longer stretch to a few sausage rolls and a paper cup of cheap plonk.

A survey by last month found two thirds of Belfast workers expected Christmas party cutbacks, particularly on subsidised food and drink and an out of office venue.

However, enterprising business Grounded Cafes, which has sites in Belfast and Newry, has launched its own campaign called Save The Office Party (STOP).

Owner Graeme Finegan said: “We all know times are tough but Christmas is only once a year and we are calling on people to tell their bosses to STOP.

“Christmas parties increase morale and motivation among workers, and this year only one fifth of companies will be having a Christmas Party because of the current economic climate,” he said.

Belfast Telegraph