I've read with interest the most recent article by Ross McEwan, head of Ulster Bank's parent, Royal Bank of Scotland. He did an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, talking about the improvements that have been made to Ulster Bank. He expounded the virtues of the bank and the progress that has been made by the bank over the last number of years, broadcasting that the bank is now profitable again. To quote Mr McEwan, "We are aligning the business again. It should be the same," he says, "for businesses both north and south."
All very interesting, I am sure; however, more telling was the insight he gave into where the bank has been and where they are going. To quote Mr McEwan, he has said that "some of the assets are better off in somebody else's hands that can nurture and create value over a longer term than we can. Some of the loans will be developed and more money poured into them than we would have been able to do in a shorter period of time." He goes on to say that this enables the bank to look forward and improve its position moving forward. Mr McEwan knows as well as we do that this is passing the parcel, or should I say parcel bomb, to someone else, in this case Cerberus, Davidson Kempner or Goldman Sachs, to name the vulture funds mentioned in the Telegraph article.
It beggars belief that the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, once the biggest bank in the world, should come out with such a statement. He knows as well as we do that the funds are here for short-term gains. Despite their protestations over the last number of months, we're all aware that once they hit their equity returns on capital invested, they will be looking to return - as they have done in Germany and elsewhere - back to New York, their final nesting place.
Why should they be bothered with how the economy of Northern Ireland does when they are here for immediate returns? How can we blame them? The blame for this catastrophe lies fairly at the feet of Ulster Bank, who are continuing with the loan sales, and despite our politicians trying to determine the impact this will have on the Northern Ireland economy for business and for borrowers in particular, Ulster Bank and the funds remain silent on this matter.
It is a shame that someone as well respected as Mr McEwan is in the financial community should continue with this spin that is continually issued by, for and on behalf of Ulster Bank. The drive for RBS is to get out of public ownership and back to privatisation as has been dictated to them by the Chancellor, George Osborne. The taxpayer, who has borne the brunt of this heavy burden of recapitalisation of RBS in particular ultimately will be the loser and time will tell in that regard.
So farewell Ulster Bank and hello vulture funds. Let's hope that, as Mr McEwan says, they will nurture and develop and create value as outlined in his article. We wait to be convinced.
By James Gibbons LLB