Helen Martin: DIY RBS paints a sorry picture

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STRICKEN Royal Bank of Scotland certainly appears to have hit hard times. It can’t afford to pay savers any significant interest on deposit accounts, nor is it able to keep its branch network going as it continues to close one after another.

Now it seems it can’t even afford to pay tradesmen to maintain the branches it has left.

Instead it has asked its employees to give up their spare time and volunteer to paint, tidy and use their IT and DIY skills to “spruce up” their local branch.

From that we can deduce that the Bank can’t afford a decent public relations consultant either, for any professional worth a light could have told them it was the worst idea since the appointment of Fred Goodwin.

And any reasonable customer may now be questioning the wisdom of having an account with an institution which portrays itself as so impoverished. If it can’t look after its own dosh and pay professionals to maintain its business outlets, how can it be entrusted with our financial planning?

Well things can’t really be that bad because it can still cover its “essentials”. There’s always enough money to pay bonuses to executives and to maintain rugby sponsorship so that corporate customers can be entertained red-carpet style at Murrayfield. These are obviously the priorities.

If we thought banks had lost the plot before, we now know it for sure. We can also be pretty certain that somewhere in that Gogarburn palace lurks an ideas person who should be at the worst sectioned and at best, re-trained.

Was the “Branch Force” volunteering scheme some crazy, misguided attempt at team-building by a young trainee manager who hadn’t yet learned the meaning of the word “exploitation”? Who, in the bank’s hierarchy, was deranged enough to approve it?

Was it a feeble and belated attempt to convince the public that despite Gogarburn, extensive sponsorship and bonuses, it had finally learned how to be frugal?

And what of its responsibility as a major employer in the community to provide work for local tradesmen, instead trying to milk more free labour from its now insulted and angry staff?

There might have been a smidgeon of merit in the scheme, the tiniest PR edge, if the “volunteers” had been recruited from among the highest paid in RBS – the board, the top traders, the ones who allegedly have to be paid ridiculous six or seven-figure salaries lest they leave to work overseas. It would have been gratifying to see them swap their tailored suits and silk ties for community service overalls and a paintbrush, if only to see them momentarily belonging to the real world.

Banks don’t have a great record in seeing themselves as others see them or winning back public confidence. Financial sector staff of my acquaintance made no secret of the fact that they were told by their managers to vote No in the referendum or lose their jobs.

Wonder what will happen when they tell their boss where to shove the corporate paintbrush and hammer?

Battered trade is sobering thought

IT’S hard to argue against the “don’t drink and drive” message, even when the new legal limit means the only safe amount is zero.

But the whole industry has been battered by legislation one way or another. The pub sector has only just stabilised following one third having closed by 2012. And although this latest limit won’t affect night clubs where young people can get so blitzed they wouldn’t dream of driving anyway, it could be the death knell for rural pubs, sports club socials and other venues where consumption is generally modest.

Of course we want drivers to be sober and in an ideal world, moderation is key for safety and health. But there are a great many people in this country, and especially this city, whose livelihoods depend on the licensed trade. It’s a crucial element of our tourism business – why else would we be impregnating Harris Tweed with the smell of Johnnie Walker?

It’s vital that in trying to control the worst excesses of booze, we don’t obliterate the whole sector, especially at a time when we need to grow the economy and create secure employment.

Tax differences first of many

DID George Osborne, below, dream up his reform of stamp duty before or after John Swinney announced his new Land and Buildings Transaction Tax?

The UK Parliament certainly seemed taken by surprise when the Chancellor spelled out changes which would make 98 per cent of properties in rUK cheaper to buy with only those costing over £1 million being more expensive.

By contrast the new Scottish system is held to be more “progressive” in terms of wealth redistribution so that the better-off pay more on properties over a comparatively modest £325,000. Whether it’s a ploy to win back ground from independents or not, we’ll have to get used to more of these unsettling cross-border differences.