Another 15,000 to face axe at Lloyds

BANK of Scotland owner Lloyds Banking Group is reported to be set to cut up to 15,000 more jobs as part of a £1 billion cost savings plan.

The cutbacks are thought to be at the heart of a strategic review of the bank's operations - which is due to be announced by new chief executive Antonio Horta-Osrio at the end of the month.

Hundreds of jobs are likely to go at the bank's head office in London, while the rest of the cuts will be split between its other regional bases and what remains of the bank's international operations.

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It is not known how many of the cuts will come from Lloyds' offices north of the Border, where Lloyds, which is 41 per cent owned by the taxpayer, employs about 20,000 staff.

Lloyds' Scottish head office - formerly the headquarters of HBOS before the troubled institution was taken over during the financial crisis - is on The Mound in Edinburgh.

The acquisition of HBOS in September 2008 ultimately forced the lender to seek a 17bn state rescue and sparked a wave of job cuts.

About 27,000 posts have already been cut in the past two years, including more than 1,000 in Scotland. The latest announcement came just last week, when the bank said it would axe 300 jobs across its retail, wholesale and wealth units.

Scottish Labour's finance spokesman, Richard Baker MSP, warned further job cuts would be bad news.

He said: "It is important we get clarity on exactly how these jobs losses will impact on Scotland, but it is clearly deeply disappointing news.

"It is vital the Scottish Government works with Lloyds and trade unions to do all it can to minimise job losses and ensure those that are affected are properly supported."

Iain McMillan, director of CBI Scotland, said the cuts were "regrettable", but warned that Mr Horta-Osrio needed to ensure that the bank was viable to preserve it for the future.

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The organisation fell back into the red last month after revealing that it had set aside 3.2bn to cover the cost of claims relating to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance.

"I think Antonio Horta- Osorio has inherited a situation at Lloyds where the upturn in results which appeared to be coming was pretty short term," said Mr McMillan.

"Businesses do need to evaluate and ensure that they are fit for purpose. While in the short term, job losses are very regrettable, nonetheless, businesses in any sector do have to make sure that their cost base is one that will keep the business in good health.

"The alternative is that it gets to a point where it has to be taken over and that could be a bloodbath and end up being even worse."

It is thought that Mr Horta-Osorio will not reveal exact numbers of job cuts when he announces the outcome of the strategic review on 30 June, but will instead lay out a series of cost-cutting targets. He is also due to hint at expansion plans for the company.

The former head of Santander UK took over as chief executive at Lloyds in March, succeeding Eric Daniels. He told politicians last week that the strategy review would be "evolutionary rather than revolutionary".

Lloyds Banking Group refused to confirm the job cuts. "We cannot comment on speculation," said a spokeswoman.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "While we would not comment on speculation, the Scottish Government has arrangements in place to support staff who are affected by redundancy."

Potential buyers named for branches sold under EU rules

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NAMES of potential buyers for the 630 branches put up for sale by Lloyds Banking Group as a result of European Union competition regulations have begun to emerge.

The bank last week began the sale of the portfolio, which represents around 4.6 per cent of the British current accounts market and includes the Lloyds TSB network in Scotland, Cheltenham & Gloucester and internet bank Intelligent Finance.

Reports have claimed a number of institutions are mulling a bid for the portfolio, including Bank of China - one of China's biggest state-owned banks - as well as Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Money and NBNK, a bidding vehicle run by Lord Levene and former Northern Rock boss Gary Hoffman.

It is also thought Co-operative Financial Services is close to appointing Credit Suisse to advise it on making a bid.

Bank of China, which has also been mooted as a potential buyer of Northern Rock, is thought to have requested details for the network.

Last week, Lloyds said it would consider bundling up the branches it is being forced to sell and floating them as a new bank if it fails to find a suitable buyer. Such a business would represent the UK's seventh-biggest bank and could be worth more than 3 billion, analysts have said.

The bank, which has a 30 per cent share of personal current accounts and 21 per cent of the savings market, is expected to be forced to even sell more of its branches under plans to be revealed by Independent Commission on Banking in September.