Belfast Telegraph

Calls for probe after claims Ulster Bank abetted RBS 'cash dash'

Parent firm was allegedly profiting from failing firms

By John Mulgrew

The Executive must probe "explosive" revelations involving Northern Ireland Ulster Bank business customers caught up in the latest 'dash for cash' controversy involving parent firm RBS.

Ulster Bank owner RBS secretly tried to profit from struggling businesses, according to leaked documents.

Dozens of companies and individuals in Northern Ireland were among the thousands moved into the 'restructuring' group, according to property debt advisor Conor Devine of GDP Partnership.

Ulster Bank's parent company set up its so-called global restructuring group (GRG) across the UK as a recovery unit - to help customers in difficulty due to the collapse in the property market.

That includes businessmen such as Sean Daly, who subsequently had his loans sold off to vulture fund Cerberus, forcing him to close his Omagh businesses.

And in 2014, developers Brian Polly and Michael Taggart blamed the bank for forcing their firms under.

The latest revelations support a report by UK government advisor, Lawrence Tomlinson, which accused Ulster Bank and RBS — which is 73% owned by the taxpayer — of putting viable firms into the restructuring division to extract profit from them.

And one of those Northern Ireland business owners formerly in GRG, who subsequently had loans sold on to Cerberus, slammed Ulster Bank for how it has dealt with his debts.

Now, Conor Devine of GDP Partnership is calling on the Economy Minister to probe how the latest revelations have impacted Northern Ireland businesses.

“I think this is something the Executive should be looking at. It’s too important for people in Northern Ireland.

“They should be looking at companies in Northern Ireland to see who was affected.”

Documents leaked to the BBC and Buzzfeed accuse RBS of exploiting some vulnerable business customers in the UK after the crash in a so-called ‘dash for cash’.

Around 12,000 business across the UK were moved into the bank’s ‘restructuring’ group.

Mr Devine called the latest revelations “explosive”, but said in his own experience he is “not surprised”.

“We have customers who have gone bankrupt, losing their homes... there have been hundreds in the last five years,” he said.

“Firms who have never missed a payment would be told, your business isn’t sustainable... you have to sell your property, or you have to wind up.”

He said that one Co Down business, formerly in GRG, was one of dozens questioning why it was included, as it had “never missed a payment”.

Ian Fraser, author of the book ‘Shredded: Inside RBS, The Bank that Broke Britain’, welcomed the idea of an investigation at a regional level at Stormont.

“Arguably, there is more chance of success if the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland Assembly conducts their own reports.

“I would welcome the idea of that sort of report,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Following a Spotlight documentary in 2014, Ulster Bank said it strongly refuted allegations that it put viable companies into a restructuring division to make profit.

Yesterday, Jon Pain, RBS’ chief conduct and regulatory affairs officer, said: “RBS has been very clear that GRG’s role was to protect the bank’s position, where possible by working with distressed businesses to return them to financial health.

“In the aftermath of the financial crisis we did not always meet our own high standards and we let some of our SME customers down,” he added.

“In regard to the wider allegations raised, we have found no evidence that the bank either inappropriately targeted such businesses to transfer them to GRG or drove them to insolvency,” he continued.

Belfast Telegraph