Business

Loss of 600 Ulster Bank jobs could cost Belfast economy £20m a year - union

The Financial Services Union has said that the 600 at risk Ulster Bank jobs in Belfast are worth around £20 million a year for the city's economy.

BELFAST has less than a year to save 600 at risk Ulster Bank back office jobs before its parent owner NatWest pulls the plug on its operation in the Republic.

The Ulster Bank business on the island was formally split in 2015, but hundreds of people in Belfast remain directly employed by the lender across the border.

The Financial Services Union (FSU) has warned that the loss of those banking support roles would likely cost the city’s economy around £20 million a year in lost wages.

NatWest announced its plans to wind down its struggling operation in the Republic in February.

Parts of the business look set to be acquired by AIB and Permanent TSB, with between 700 and 800 of Ulster Bank’s 2,500 staff in the Republic moving to the respective lenders.

It’s understood that those deals involve a very small number of the 600 workers in Belfast, who service the Ulster Bank operation across the border.

But following meetings with representatives from NatWest and Ulster Bank’s Northern Ireland operation in recent days, FSU general secretary John O’Connell said he is optimistic that a solution can be found.

“The bank indicated that they are working through how that can come about. There were no guarantees in terms at this stage,” he said.

“But they are aware of the concerns in the wider community and amongst the staff themselves.

“There seems to be an energy about it which gave us heart.”

The union representative has argued that NatWest could redeploy the Belfast workers to establish a hub to support the growing digital end of the banking sector.

“We have campaigned from the start to say that these jobs are different than the jobs in the Republic.

“We believe these jobs are worth in the region of £20 million a year to the economy in Belfast. Everybody agrees theses jobs are worth saving,” he said.

“To create an entity with 600 jobs would take years, so we think it’s worth investing time and effort in saving these jobs.”

The winding down of Ulster Bank across the border is expected to take place gradually from the second half of 2022.

“We have the time because it’s an orderly wind down in the Republic of Ireland, so it’s going to be over time,” said the union boss.

Meanwhile the establishment of a banking forum in the north has taken a step closer with both Stormont and the banks understood to have committed to involvement.

The FSU has called for the forums to be set up on both sides of the border in response to the acceleration in branch closures across the island.

“We believe there is a better way and we believe the forum gives us the potential to carve out a better way in bringing about change within the sector,” said Mr O’Connell.

“We understand that there’s development work being done now on the terms of reference. That would indicate that we’re close enough to commencement.

“Banks are telling us that they are positively disposed in relation to it.”

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