Will this be another big headache for Labour?
One of the big services that the taxpayer-owned bank provides is RBS Streamline – a mechanism by which retailers and other others can offer credit/debit card facilities. As we move more and more away from cash this side of the bank’s business has grown and grown and RBS is now a leader in its field.
So how come that the firm is now, apparently, subjecting those merchants who want to use the service to political vetting – a move that is said to have only happened since the bank became part of the public sector?
According to an excellent piece by Fraser Nelson in this week’s Spectator, a Cheshire-based computer consultant, recently tried to sign up for the service so he could accept card payments.
According to Nelson after going through the standard points the man was asked about his political affiliation and whether he know any MPs, councillors or mayors? The report goes on: “It was a new question, the lady explained to him, which had been introduced soon after the government took control of RBS. She said, in his paraphrase, that â€˜political influences may be used for corrupt purposes”.
Yet when Nelson questioned the bank about it he got an absolute denial. He was told by a spokeswoman: “We would never ask such a question, nor would we dream of doing so”.
Nelson was unconvinced, so called RBS Streamline, posing as an employee for a family member’s real company and asking for the same service.
“Sure enough, the chilling question came at the end: â€˜Is she a member of any political party?â€™ I asked why this was relevant. â€˜I presume we ask because there is a high volume of fraud in that sector. Because people who are of that sort of [party political] nature, maybe, are inclined to commit fraud.â€™ The question, I was told, is â€˜thrust upon us by the Financial Services Authorityâ€™. The FSA says this is untrue. Banks can check clientsâ€™ backgrounds, but no one is required to talk politics.”
On the face of it this appears to be an outrage. Quite what is going on here? It’s hard to say but now RBS is publicly owned it’s going to be subject to even greater scrutiny. Methinks there might be another political storm in the offing and ministers will come under pressure.