London counts the cost of protest against cuts

Steve Dinneen
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HSBC has slammed the attacks on its branches during Saturday’s protests as “entirely unjustified,” pointing out that it is one of the UK’s top taxpayers.

Branches of Santander and HSBC were boarded up yesterday after black-clad, masked youths smashed their way into branches, where they destroyed fittings and scrawled graffiti. Lloyds TSB was also targeted.

An HSBC spokesman said: “We feel that damage to our branches is entirely unjustified. HSBC is a top ten UK tax payer. In 2010 we paid £1.12bn tax in the UK, equal to almost all profit made from UK personal and business customers. As for security, our priority is the safety of our staff, branches can be repaired.”

Many businesses across London were privately angry yesterday, with some worried that the riots would damage the UK’s image as an investment centre. The overall cost of lost business this weekend could come to £5m. John Lewis said its takings were down 20 per cent on Saturday. Others – including Sir Philip Green’s Topshop – face clean-up costs which could run into tens of thousands.

Councils are also bracing themselves for a bumper clean-up operation. Westminster Council had 100 street cleaners working throughout the night on Saturday and all day yesterday. Trafalgar Square was daubed with paint and the lions at the foot of Nelson’s Column were defaced.

The council’s cabinet member for business, Brian Connell, said: “It’s ironic and regrettable that a minority of people claiming to defend jobs are content to damage the livelihoods of the thousands employed in the capital.”

At least 250,000 people joined the protest, which ended with 201 arrests.