Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank shuffles posts after broadside from Sammy Wilson

By Margaret Canning

Ulster Bank has changed its management in Ireland as it came under fire from Finance Minister Sammy Wilson over its support for business.

The institution, which is part of Royal Bank of Scotland, confirmed that Northern Ireland head Ellvena Graham will now also act as managing director of corporate banking for the whole of Ireland.

Ms Graham today faces questions from members of the Assembly's finance and enterprise committees over last week's announcement by the bank of branch closures and lay-offs.

Yesterday the bank was accused by Chris Donaldson, who owns a property business in Belfast, of unfairness after it demanded full repayment of a loan, even though he was repaying the loan and his business was in profit. The business, Donaldson and Lyttle, is now in receivership.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said the business was among many which were being put under pressure by banks.

"They are seeking to find ways of quickly getting cash," he told the BBC. "That very often means going after businesses which generate cash and trying to get that cash back quickly rather that allowing ways to work their way through the loans they have."

Mr Donaldson said the bank demanded repayment after four years instead of the 20 years which had originally been agreed.

He could not be reached by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday but earlier told the BBC that his company was making a profit and that he could have repaid the loan if the original term was preserved.

"We're being picked on because we've managed the business well. It's actually the good businesses that they are picking on because that's where the bank can get their money back."

But the bank said: "While do not comment on individual customer cases, we do not target healthy businesses for cash and assets. We are committed to working with customers who find themselves in difficulty and work with customers who engage with us to help them find a sustainable solution on a case-by-case basis.

In the last four years we have helped a significant number of companies in financial difficulty and secured many local jobs. As a responsible lender we cannot continue to lend indefinitely to a business which is not viable and has no way of repaying its debts."

Last week the bank confirmed that it intends to have cut its Ireland-wide staff by between 1,300 and 1,800 between 2012 and 2016, a figure which includes 950 redundancies announced in January last year.

The bank said it expected the further reductions would be achieved by natural attrition, ie, not replacing departing staff.

Around 39 branches across Ireland will close between now and 2014.Both redundancies and branch closures are part of the bank's plan to return to profitability by 2016.It made a loss of £1bn in 2012.

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