Belfast Telegraph

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton is urged to put pressure on Ulster Bank over cuts

By Noel McAdam

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has been urged to insist no more branches or staff numbers in Ulster Bank are 'butchered'.

The demand came in the Assembly as Mr Hamilton revealed he is to meet with senior management of the Ulster Bank next week, ahead of talks with the new chief executive of parent bank RBS – Ross McEwan.

Ulster Bank's bad debts account for a significant proportion of RBS's newly formed internal 'bad bank' and is being included in a group-wide review – the results of which are due in February.

The SDLP's Alban Maginness said: "...when I hear the word 'review', particularly from banks, I think that I am right to be nervous, given that, over the past number of years, the banks have butchered branches and staff numbers."

Asking Mr Hamilton to have direct contact with RBS he said the Minister should tell it: "No more branch cuts, and no more staff cuts".

The DUP Minister responded: "We need Ulster Bank to function properly, because businesses are starting to see signs of recovery, and if that continues to be the case, they will want to get the sort of credit that they need to develop their businesses."

Revealing he also hopes to meet with treasury officials, he said in meeting Ulster Bank, "I hope to try to influence, as best I can, this new 'bad bank' creation, because Northern Ireland's property market is not the same as that in London and the south-east.

"Flooding our market with assets over a very short three-year period... could have a seriously detrimental impact on a property market that is languishing close to the bottom but that is at least showing signs of some improvement. We do not want to kill that stone dead before it has started."

Asked if he had any concerns about the 'review' of Ulster Bank operations announced last week by RBS, Mr Hamilton added: "We would have had more cause to be concerned today if the option of hiving off the Ulster Bank and all its assets, whether good or bad, and establishing it as a bad bank, either internally or outside of the group, had been taken."

The Minister acknowledged fears the review will lead to further restructuring at Ulster Bank, which is already slashing its branch network from 214 to between 175 and 185 by the end of 2014 and cutting its workforce from about 5,800 full-time staff to between 4,000 and 4,500 by 2016.

Ulster Bank was quick to state it was 'business as usual' following the RBS announcements and that the review would create a "really good bank for our customers".

Belfast Telegraph