Finance · 23 October 2017

Police probe claims of criminality within RBS small business group

London, England - 28th January 2012: The exterior of the RBS, Royal Bank of Scotland, in Belgravia London. The troubled bank recently bailed out by the British government resulting in 84% being owned by the UK taxpayer. Currently under scrutiny because of staff bonus payments.
The Global Restructuring Division was set up in the early 1990s and eventually closed in 2013

Police officers have begun inquiries into the alleged mistreatment of small UK business owners within the Royal Bank of Scotland’s (RBS) controversial restructuring division, reports have suggested.

According to reports from the BBC, Police Scotland is conducting early inquiries into claims that the Global Restructuring Group (GRG) – the RBS division opened to support struggling small businesses – deliberately pushed firms to the brink of financial collapse, with the intention of purchasing their company premises.

In an official statement, RBS said it would “cooperate with any request for information made by Police Scotland”.

The BBC also obtained a memo written in 2009 by a GRG employee that suggested staff were encouraged to extract money from participating business owners.

Welcoming the reports, Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said the police presence into the investigation demonstrated the “severity” of what took place within the GRG.

“Many small business owners had their professional and personal lives completely destroyed,” Cherry said.

At the end of 2016, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) completed a full report into the allegations, but has yet to publish its findings. Following a leak to the press, the influential Treasury select committee of MPs demanded the imminent publishing of the report.

According to the FCA’s leaked report, over nine in ten of all small firms working with the GRG experienced “inappropriate” advice or assistance, such as dubious fees or increased interest rates.

Cherry added: “A decade is too long to wait for justice. We urge the FCA to make its full findings on GRG known so victims can finally receive the support they’re due.

“What’s now clear is that a detailed summary of the FCA’s long-awaited report into GRG – even one overseen by a legal adviser to the Treasury committee – is not enough. We need to see the report in full. It will be a vital resource for the police and victims in their efforts to hold those responsible to account.

“The news follows reports that thousands of those affected could miss out on compensation. Any firm caught up in the GRG web must receive the redress they’re due. RBS should respect the FCA’s definition of what constitutes a GRG customer.”

Following the news of new police inquiries, Bill Esterson, Labour Party MP and shadow business and international trade minister, has called for a full judge-led enquiry into the allegations.

RBS has set aside a compensation fund worth £400m that it hopes will cover all claims. Around 140 business owners are seeking damages from the bank, with the average claim reported to sit between £6m and £7m – totalling £1bn.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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