James Moore: You can criticise the RBS, but it's not the villain here

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The Independent Online

It is always when you're down that people line up to give you a kicking. Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has been down for a very long time and so it's taking brickbats from all quarters. Start with the shares, which have halved in value over the past year, leaving its biggest shareholder (us, thanks to the Government bailout) facing a paper loss in the billions. Then there are the unions, who are outraged over the jobs cuts that seem to come on a monthly basis.

Then there are the multimillion pound bonuses that the people presiding over the carnage are set to pocket. They make everyone cross.

If that wasn't enough, RBS is now being cast as the villain in what could end up being the biggest retail blow up since Woolies unravelled. There are 10,000 or so jobs at risk at Peacocks, the discount clothes retailer which stopped preening some time ago.

On the face of it, Peacocks' troubles could be seen as something of a surprise. When you shout about dressing people for £3 you surely ought to find a ready market, if not much margin. The consumer squeeze should be the delight of a discounter like that, shouldn't it?

Apparently not. The trouble for Peacocks is that it has some savvy and aggressive rivals to deal with. Did someone say Primark? Not to mention the supermarkets.

And these days when it comes to discounting it doesn't matter what sector of the market you're in. Everybody's at it. Faced with pay cuts, if not threats to their jobs, consumers just aren't biting like they used to. Even those that are might just be buying one £3 ladies stretch cami top this year instead of the two or three they might have stashed away before.

But Peacocks can't just blame the "challenging" market everyone's talking about. Its problems are just as much about debt, and the decisions by management that have loaded it down with too much. What money it is making isn't enough to meet the interest on that, let alone pay it back.

One way out of this conundrum could be for Peacocks' lenders to swap that debt for equity. Other banks appear to be willing.

RBS not so much, and perhaps we should be thankful. This is a bank that spent years throwing good money after bad. Taxpayers have been left to pick up the pieces. Cold comfort for those retail workers facing an uncertain future, but with schools and hospitals getting squeezed, now is not the time for the Government to be using our money to prop up more failing businesses.

There is a lot that RBS can be criticised for, deserves to be criticised for. But the people who should carry the can for several thousand looming retail redundancies at Peacocks are its management, not the management of its most high-profile refusenik bank.