Bonus row continues as RBS posts loss of �2bn

TAXPAYER-backed Royal Bank of Scotland remained at the heart of the row over bankers’ pay today as it unveiled total losses of �2 billion for 2011 at the same time as paying �785 million in bonuses to its staff.

RBS, which is 82% state-owned after receiving a �45.5 billion bailout at the height of the financial crisis, said the bonus pool included �390 million for its 17,000 investment bankers.

While the total pot is 43% lower than the previous year, it follows a period in which the bank announced thousands of job cuts as it scales back its investment arm Global Banking and Markets.

It also follows a turbulent period for the bank in which chief executive Stephen Hester was forced to waive his �963,000 all-shares bonus amid public outrage over bankers’ pay.

The bank, which employs 146,800 staff, revealed wider total losses of �2 billion in 2011, compared with �1.1 billion in 2010, which included a near �1 billion hit for mis-sold payment protection insurance compensation.

Unite said it had confronted RBS for failing to offer its workforce a fair pay deal, adding that talks have broken down.

“If RBS split the massive bonus pot it is awarding its investment bankers between the 60,000 average bank workers, they would have a real opportunity to pay their household bills and change the life of their family,” said the union.

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“The bonus pot would give these low-paid employees approximately �6,000, which amounts to simply loose change for a City slicker.”

David Fleming, Unite national officer, said: “It beggars belief that this 84% taxpayer-backed institution is imposing a pay cut on its hard-working frontline staff, while continuing to pay the City bankers ridiculously large bonuses.

“This hypocrisy will infuriate the workforce, who have continued to work under the hardest of conditions. Instead of walking away from pay talks, RBS should be reconsidering its derisory pay offer.

“Unite is now asking its members whether they can accept the deal and are seeking members’ views on the proposal.

“How does RBS expect staff to accept its claims of poverty and this ludicrous pay offer when there is clearly enough money flowing into the hands of its top bankers and traders?”

Chancellor George Osborne said: “We have made clear that RBS should be a back-marker in the industry when it comes to pay, so it’s right that bonuses at the investment bank are less than half what they were last year and less than a third of what they were in 2009.

“But our main interest should be to get back as much money as possible for taxpayers and we must not let those that want to create an anti-business culture put that at risk.”

RBS said the average bonus per group employee was �5,346, whereas the average bonus per investment banker was �22,941. Total staff costs, including salary, were down 9%.

Discussing the furore surrounding pay at RBS and the wider industry, Mr Hester said the criticism levelled at the bank hinders its progress.

He said: “No one should be under any illusions. You can’t have your cake and eat it. The noise around RBS is very damaging.”

On waiving his own bonus, he said: “I got myself into an unfortunate position where it would have been more damaging for me to take it.”

RBS said it had exceeded its so-called Merlin lending targets, including to small business, agreed between the top five banks and the Government last year.

This may come as a surprise after official figures revealed the banks missed the target for gross lending to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), with many assuming RBS was the culprit behind the shortfall.

But the bank said it handed out �93.5 billion of new lending to UK businesses in 2011, up 22% on the previous year, which included �40.9 billion to SMEs, a 4% increase on 2010.

RBS added that it lent almost as much to SMEs last year as all of its competitors put together.