‘No evidence’ found of RBS wrongdoing

No evidence that RBS has driven small companies into default. Picture Michael Gillen.
No evidence that RBS has driven small companies into default. Picture Michael Gillen.
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A REPORT which claimed that Royal Bank of Scotland had deliberately driven small firms out of business to make money was questioned in the Commons yesterday.

Sir Andrew Large, the author of another report into state-backed RBS’s lending to smaller businesses, said he found no evidence of the bank engineering companies into default.

The claim was made in a report drawn up by Lawrence Tomlinson, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills’ entrepreneur in residence.

Tomlinson has in the past claimed that he was also mistreated by RBS and was hugely critical of the bank in his ­report published in November.

Large, commissioned by RBS last year to conduct the review, said he hadn’t found anything to back up the accusations. However, he did say there was an “element of plausibility” behind them.

But in damning comments to the Treasury select committee, he added that the report was “a collection of assertions” with no evidence presented to support them. Large, right, said he had personally not been presented with evidence that RBS had put any firms out of business.

Tomlinson had said that RBS, 82 per cent owned by the government, pushed struggling small businesses into its Global Restructuring Group (GRG) turnaround unit, enabling it to charge higher fees and take control of their assets.

“There’s an element of plausibility in the assertions that are in the Tomlinson report but that doesn’t mean to say I think those activities are actually happening. I didn’t have any evidence of them,” Large, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, told the committee.

But he added that RBS’s profit-making model in its restructuring business was “flawed”, saying: “All my experience tells me the people within GRG are all experienced and very good at their jobs. When it is known that GRG itself is a profit centre, the sort of assertions in Dr Tomlinson’s report look plausible

“One wants to feel they can’t be true and that’s why I feel this forensic work being done is so important.”

Large admitted he “wouldn’t be surprised if there are some cases where SMEs have been treated rather roughly”.

Britain’s financial regulator has launched an inquiry into RBS’s treatment of struggling small businesses and will publish its findings in the third quarter. RBS, meanwhile, has appointed law firm Clifford Chance to examine the matter.

• Britain’s five biggest banks will today launch a publicity blitz to convince small firms to apply for loans.

The campaign – co-ordinated by the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) – said that approval rates for finance were currently running at about 67 per cent. But a survey commissioned by the trade body found that only 37 per cent of small companies think that they will be approved for a loan.

BBA chief executive Anthony Browne said: “We want to let businesses in Scotland know that they are a lot more likely to get finance than they think. This matters because more successful loan applications mean more orders for equipment, more jobs and more plans to expand.”

The BBA said that a further 53,000 small British firms could expand if they received funding, placing 48,000 orders for equipment between them.