Former business secretary Sir Vince Cable has hit out at “shocking” evidence that appears to suggest the pay of RBS’s top brass within its controversial global restructuring unit (GRG) was linked to Treasury targets.
Fresh questions are being asked about the extent of the Treasury’s involvement in RBS’s GRG unit following allegations that emerged in court papers this week that suggest the government had strategic control of the bank’s turnaround arm. The GRG was supposed to help struggling firms but stands accused of seeking to profit from distressed businesses instead.
Yesterday documents came to light which appeared to show that the incentives and bonuses of the GRG’s top bosses were evaluated against performance targets set by the Asset Protection Agency (APA), an arm of the Treasury that was established to run the Asset Protection Scheme (APS) that insured RBS’s toxic loans at the height of the financial crisis.
Cable told City A.M: “It’s very clear where RBS got its instructions from.”
He said it was “shocking” that bosses’ pay could have been driven by targets set by the Treasury. “It’s shocking because when I was secretary of state I pressed for the pay of RBS executives to be tied to lending to small businesses – the opposite of what GRG was doing.
“At the time the Treasury refused because it said government had no role in influencing GRG behaviour in that way.
"Any evidence the Treasury was taking measures to harm small businesses is very damning.”
Co-chair of the parliamentary group on fair business banking, Kevin Hollinrake, said the relationship between the APA and the GRG was of “real concern, particularly in the context of all that happened at GRG”.
He said the APA’s strategic oversight of the GRG was “reasonable – but not if it resulted in the scandalous mistreatment of small businesses”.
“If the priorities of the APA or the incentives struck between RBS and the APA drove that bad behaviour those are real concerns.”
Earlier this week it was alleged that the APA wielded significant influence over RBS’s GRG unit, which has been strongly criticised for its role in mistreating the small business customers it was designed to help, often by acquiring their assets and selling them off to generate income for the bank.
The allegations of Treasury control in the unit emerged in a court case between Manchester-based businessman Oliver Morley, who is suing RBS for allegedly placing his business under “economic duress” when the bank's property arm, the West Register, acquired some of his assets in 2010.
RBS has said it “fundamentally disagrees with Morley’s claims and does not believe they have any merit”.
Morley has also suggested he will pursue legal action against the Treasury over its alleged role in influencing the GRG. A spokesperson for the Treasury said: “No claim has been brought against HM Treasury. This court case is between the claimant, Mr Morley and RBS.”
On the apparent link between RBS pay and Treasury targets, a spokesperson for HM Treasury said: “The APS’s objective was to maintain financial stability and protect taxpayers’ interests by ensuring participating banks managed their exposure to high-risk assets responsibly, while at the same time treating their customers fairly.
“The FCA skilled persons’ review of RBS GRG made it clear that participation in the APS made no difference to the way in which RBS customers were treated.”