Finance union critical of Ulster Bank’s intention to close more branches

Issued : 1 July 2014

Ulster Bank

Finance union, IBOA, has reacted strongly to the announcement by Ulster Bank’s management that it intends to close five more branches in Northern Ireland along with seven branches and three sub-offices in the Republic before the end of 2014.

The branches earmarked for closure in Northern Ireland are Lisburn Road, Belfast, Lombard Street, Belfast; Finaghy; Rathcoole/Newtownabbey; and Hillsborough. The seven branches earmarked for closure in the Republic are South Mall, Cork; Pearse Road, Sligo; Granard; Clane, Kimmage, Dublin; Inchicore, Dublin; and George’s Quay, Dublin – together with three sub-offices in Clara, Co. Offaly; Enfield, Co. Meath; and Lifford, Co. Donegal.This latest announcement comes in the wake of 11 branch closures in Northern Ireland last summer (2013) along with a similar number of locations in the Republic.

Apart from the immediate questions about the provision of alternative arrangements for customers in the affected areas, IBOA General Secretary Larry Broderick said the Union is also concerned that the announcement pre-empts to some extent the ongoing negotiations between the Bank’s senior management and the Union on the restructuring of the institution.

“Those negotiations have reached a crucial stage with the two sides agreeing to refer all unresolved issues – including proposals for branch closures – to an independent mediator, Mr. Mark Connaughton, who is due to meet the parties this week.

“While we note that management anticipates that these closures will not result directly in redundancies and we acknowledge its commitment that whatever provisions emerge from the restructuring negotiations will be available to the staff in these locations, we are, nevertheless, concerned about the impact on the directly affected staff in terms of redeployment as well as the indirect effect on employment for others.”

“As well as jumping the gun on the restructuring negotiations between the Bank’s management and IBOA, this latest announcement also rather pre-empts the findings of the banking inquiry being conducted by the House of Commons Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs – which is due to report within the next three weeks.

The role of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland – including its relationships with customers – is one of the key features of the Westminster inquiry. Taken alongside Ulster Bank’s recent comments to the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont to the effect that an as yet indefinite number of branch closures would be rolled out over a so far undecided timeframe, this announcement only serves to heighten the uncertainty for customers as well as staff.

“Just as in the Danske Bank branch closures announced just over a week ago, Ulster Bank management cannot confirm that this announcement marks the end of the restructuring of its branch network. Indeed we are aware from comments by Chief Executive, Jim Brown, earlier this year, that further branch closures may be in the pipeline over the next three years.

“So we advise Ulster Bank customers to address any queries about this announcement – especially concerns about the level of service under the new arrangements – to Ulster Bank’s Head Office to the senior executives who have responsibility for these plans, rather than local staff who are trying to come to terms with the announcement, themselves.

“As well as seeking clarification about this latest announcement, IBOA has also written to RBS Chief Executive, Ross McEwan, for clarification about the continuing speculation over the possibility that the Republic of Ireland operation may be subsumed into a new joint venture with a private equity company while Ulster Bank’s Northern Ireland operation is set to become more closely integrated with RBS. It is vital now that Ulster Bank and RBS clarify its future intentions for customers and staff as soon as possible.”

“IBOA remains willing to continue to negotiate the terms of a comprehensive agreement on future change within Ulster Bank. But we need a degree of transparency from management to ensure that the outcome of these negotiations offers the best possible solution for all of the Bank’s stake-holders – including staff and customers.”