Staff will be victims as banks go in for the cull

THE coalition government’s decision to accept the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking prompted cheers from those who’d expected nothing more than heads on spikes. They will begin to see their wishes granted as early as this week when Stephen Hester announces his plans to shrink the Royal Bank of Scotland’s investment banking division.

But the casualties will not be those former bosses of the failed banks who continue to thrive on big pensions or in new highly paid jobs. The victims will be thousands of staff who’ll find themselves out of work.

Hester is under orders to run down the investment banking business in a back-to-basics operation that will see RBS revert to a retail and business lending bank. Potential buyers include Oriel Securities and Numis for the Hoare Govett corporate broking business acquired in the purchase of Dutch bank ABN Amro. There is value in its brand and client portfolio.

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But there are concerns that some businesses will struggle to get a good price and will be closed, including the often loss-making cash equities division.

The uncertainty for 19,000 employees in these businesses is putting pressure on Hester to bring forward a strategic review he had planned to announce ahead of the annual results on 23 February. The best bet on job losses is around 5,000, mainly in London, Hong Kong, Australia and the United States. An alternative scenario is that buyers take on those displaced, thereby keeping job cuts to a minimum.

Scotland is likely to escape largely unscathed, though I have maintained since the crisis erupted in 2008 that warnings of tens of thousands of job losses in Scotland were always overdone. The core of the problems at RBS were in risky trading activities that were undertaken in the City and overseas. Hence, of the 27,500 jobs cut by RBS, just 2,000 have been in Scotland.

Even so, the impact of scaling down RBS will be felt in Edinburgh. It may gain jobs as a result of the swing back to simpler banking, but the effects of no longer offering the full services of an international financial services group are a worry. It must be hoped that in the search for revenge RBS is not so emasculated that it can no longer effectively compete.

The next round of banker bashing is imminent and Hector Sants, the chief executive of the Financial Services Authority, is warning the banks of the need to shore up their capital reserves before paying out bonuses. This battle will not be a pretty sight.

Still shopping for bargains

THE winners and losers in the fight for survival on the high street will be in evidence again tomorrow when Blacks Leisure goes into administration ahead of its sale, probably to JD Sports.

One surprise inclusion in the shortlist was Glasgow-based Trespass, the privately owned business run by brothers Afzal and Akmal Khushi. It suggests Trespass will be on the lookout when other assets come up for sale, as seems likely, though Blacks would have been of special interest because of the overlapping product range and customer base.

Another change of ownership involved 20 stores from the collapsed Ayrshire chain D2 being acquired by Blue Inc, backed by former Marks & Spencer chairman Sir Stuart Rose.

It seems the high street still has plenty of takers.