Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Ulster Bank 'shut viable firms'

Government adviser pledges to release damning report

Complaints against bank 'mirror those in Britain'
Complaints against bank 'mirror those in Britain'

Complaints about how Ulster Bank allegedly mistreated business customers north and south of the border "mirror" those investigated in Britain, a senior UK government adviser has said in his first public comments about the bank in Ireland.

Wealthy English businessman Dr Lawrence Tomlinson, a special adviser to Britain's Secretary of State for Business Vince Cable, says he will be "happy" to release a copy of his next report on the crisis-hit bank to the governments on both sides of the border.

He met Executive Finance Minister Simon Hamilton last night – and will meet more than 40 Ulster Bank customers from all over Ireland at a hotel in Co Antrim today to discuss alleged malpractice by the financial institution, which is 81% owned by the Government.

He was also a guest speaker last night in Belfast's Mac theatre to discuss the banking sector.

In a damning report last November, Dr Tomlinson, who runs a care home empire, said customers of the Ulster Bank parent company the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) believed their viable businesses had been deliberately shut down so the bank could make more money out of them.

The government adviser also confirmed that he had included some Ulster Bank cases from Northern Ireland in his report.

"The issues I am hearing from customers in Ireland in regards to Ulster Bank very much mirror what I have heard from businesses across the UK," Dr Tomlinson said. "The key concern remains the decision to move businesses into GRG and their subsequent treatment."

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said on Friday that it has started its independent review of RBS's treatment of business customers and that the Promontory Financial Group and Mazars will conduct the report.

Dr Tomlinson added: "In the long run, I would like to see more competition in the banking market. Commercial lending remains unregulated activity and often lacks available lines of redress for businesses, many therefore feel their grievances are not being effectively dealt with.

"The business-bank relationship is one of trust, and that trust has eroded greatly in the period following the financial crash.

"Coupled with little competition in the commercial lending market, there is also nowhere for them to move to when these grievances occur, rendering them unable to move and at the behest of the very bank they are complaining about."

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