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RBS banks on a gamble affecting staff and public

The chief executive of RBS, Ross McEwan, was not appointed as a caretaker.

It was always going to fall to him to complete the transformation of the bank from bloated global behemoth to trim British retail and business bank, a process begun under Stephen Hester.

Even so, the scale of the latest planned cutbacks at the bank comes as a shock. About 30,000 jobs are to go, one-quarter of the workforce, bringing to 70,000 the combined number of posts to have gone or been earmarked to go since 2008. This latest tally is a huge one-off loss.

If the indicators are to be believed, the majority of those will not immediately involve people losing their jobs: for example, Citizens Bank in the US, employing 18,500 people, will be sold, as will the UK retail banking arm Williams and Glyn, but that still leaves 7000 further job losses.

Where will they come from? It is expected that cuts will affect the bank's politically sensitive investment division, which has already been drastically cut back, but it is inevitable, with so many jobs going, that Scotland - and particularly Edinburgh, where RBS is headquartered - will suffer; or, rather, suffer again. RBS employs about 12,000 people in Scotland, most of them in the capital, and has already seen many go. This news is a blow to the local economy and leaves RBS staff in a state of anxiety and uncertainty.

After everything they have been through, workers should be told as soon as possible what is happening, when and to which parts of the bank's operations, so that union negotiators have the chance to work with the company to minimise losses. Leaving rumours of redundancies hanging in the air is unsettling and unfair.

The impact of this restructuring does not end there. It may also speed up the closure of branches, a process that is already under way; the latest casualty, Paisley Central branch, was announced only last week. Will this latest round of redundancies signal the swift closure of more? Mr McEwan has made no secret of his belief that the future for RBS lies in technological advance, with more online and mobile phone banking, and in strategically located automated tellers offering a range of services. Staff and customers deserve answers.

Employees and taxpayers are still paying the price for the failure of this bank to put its house in order. Next week RBS is expected to announce its sixth consecutive year of losses, which are expected to reach £8 billion. Taxpayers, staff and customers will be exasperated. After all, much of this is self-inflicted, with £3bn accounted for by penalties of various kinds.

Mr McEwan admits that the bank's customer service is poor, just as Stephen Hester did before him, and promises, like his predecessor, to turn things around. But in the light of ongoing scandals, expectations will be low. Mr McEwan has continued Mr Hester's course of reducing the bank's assets and wants to create a leaner bank that is geared up to 21st-century living; now a lot of people are set to lose their jobs in pursuit of that strategy. He had better put it right or he will face the ire of customers, public and politicians.

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