Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank employees braced for swingeing staff cuts

By Margaret Canning

Ulster Bank employees are expected to hear of significant job losses in the business today.

Up to 300 jobs could go among its 2,000 Northern Ireland employees as the bank is forced to slim down in the face of heavy losses - it had to set aside £1bn to protect against potential bad debts for the first nine months of last year. Ulster Bank has 90 branches in Northern Ireland.

Even bigger cuts are expected among the staff of around 4,000 in 132 branches in the Republic.

The bank let 1,000 people go across Ireland in 2009.

Meanwhile, parent company RBS, which is 83% owned by the taxpayer, is expected to announce it is closing its equities and corporate finance units with losses of up to 5,000 jobs UK-wide.

A spokesman for Ulster Bank said yesterday: "Ulster Bank does not comment on speculation. Announcements pertaining to jobs are made to staff directly."

However, Seamas Sheils, spokesman for trade union the Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA), which held a meeting with Ulster Bank officials yesterday, said it had been awaiting an announcement from Ulster Bank.

"We fear that further job losses may be on the cards, given RBS's general situation and given that Ulster Bank is continuing to lose money. Therefore we fear that further job reductions may be proposed, but we have to wait and see exactly what scale we are talking about."

In October bank chief executive Jim Brown told the Irish Times that he "wouldn't rule out job losses, but it is not something we have formed a view on".

RBS acquired Ulster Bank in 2000 when it bought over NatWest. It expanded in the South three years later with the purchase of building society First Active plc.

But losses at the bank widened from £368m in 2009 to £761m last year.

Impairment charges also jumped from £649m to £1.165bn, with then-chief executive Cormac MacCarthy pointing to the Irish economy as dragging down the institution's performance.

Then RBS confounded expectations by reporting a profit of £1.9bn in 2010 compared to losses of £6.1bn a year earlier.

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness, chairman of the Assembly's enterprise committee, said: "There was certainly an expectation and inevitability about some job losses arising out of the situation in which Ulster Bank and its parent finds itself.

"It's a major blow to their workforce in the north and in the south and it's another blow to the local economy, which is already not performing well."

Factfile

Ulster Bank owner Royal Bank of Scotland is undergoing the painful process of preparing to exit public ownership. Last week its cash equities division was being tipped for closure. It was acquired as part of the bank's £49bn purchase of ABN Amro in 2007, a deal thought to have been a significant contributor to the bank's woes.

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