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29 Nov 2013

Scourge of RBS is our influencer of the week

Posted on November 29, 2013 by

There aren’t many business people who can say something and spark an almost immediate response from the Business Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Governor of the Bank of England and the Serious Fraud Office.

But that’s exactly what Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Lawrence Tomlinson achieved this week, and for that he is a worthy recipient of our Influencer of the Week award.

Despite having run a number of successful businesses and with a worth estimated at around £500m, Tomlinson is far from being a household name. He runs care homes, a software company and sports car manufacturer Ginetta, but he’s not an entrepreneur who’s used to making news. Until now.

Tomlinson was asked by Business Secretary Vince Cable to examine banks’ lending practices in relation to small businesses. What could have been a dry, academic report turned out to be anything but.

His report was officially published on Monday, but was heavily trailed in The Sunday Times and then picked up by broadcasters and online on Sunday. The story has dominated the news ever since.

Tomlinson didn’t pull any punches in the language he used to describe the banks’ behaviour, but his most explosive criticisms were reserved for the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 80 per cent owned by taxpayers.

He accused RBS of “systematic fraud”, of pushing up the fees and charges imposed on small businesses to force them into administration. He said RBS would then pick off the assets – usually buildings – at rock-bottom prices, to add them to the bank’s property empire.

Cable announced he was referring the “serious allegations” in Tomlinson’s report to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), while Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said the report was “deeply troubling”.

If RBS thought the ’48 hour rule’ would apply (ie the unwritten rule which says you’re no longer news after two days), they were sadly mistaken.

On Wednesday, the Serious Fraud Office said it was “monitoring developments”, with journalists predicting a full SFO investigation was imminent. Then the City of London Police announced it was carrying out a separate inquiry into small business lending practices at RBS.

But while the RBS PR team will have been running around this week trying to put out endless fires, you can bet the other banks won’t have been sitting back, chuckling at their competitor’s misfortune. They will be looking for their own weak spots, because the issue of SME lending is not going away.

Only time will tell what the ultimate impact of his report will be, but it’s unlikely the big banks will ever forget the name Lawrence Tomlinson.

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