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Business News

New RBS bonus storm

Undeterred by Stephen Hester outcry, rescued bank pays out £785m to its staff

The Royal Bank of Scotland's chief executive and chairman may both have given up their bonuses but the state-owned bank will today unveil plans to lavish up to £785m on its workforce, including £400m to its investment bankers.

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Stephen Hester, chief executive, turned down a payout of nearly £1m in shares while the chairman Sir Philip Hampton passed on £1.4m.

But their nods to public outrage, over bonuses being paid to people who work for a bank that called on £45bn of public funds to keep it afloat and is expected to announce losses of as much as £2bn, have not been reflected among their senior colleagues.

While the full details of payments to other executives will not become clear until the bank issues its annual report later this year, John Hourican, head of global banking and markets, could receive as much as £5m, despite overseeing the redundancies of more than 3,000 staff. That process in itself could cost up to £200,000 per employee because it targets some of highest-paid employees in investment banking, a large part of which is being shut down.

Another man who could also receive a sizeable payout is its American finance director Bruce Van Saun, who last year received a bonus of £1.35m as part of a total package of £2.3m. That does not include additional payouts through his share-based long-term incentive scheme. He too has yet to give any indication that he plans to forgo this year's award despite effectively being No 3 in the bank's hierarchy after Sir Philip and Mr Hester.

The overall bonus pool had to be agreed with the Government, which holds an 82 per cent stake in the bank following the bailout. The £400m for investment bankers is the lowest since the bank was effectively nationalised in 2008, and less than half last year's payout to them of £950m.

A spokesman for the bank declined to comment on the figure. However, he said: "Ten thousand of our most senior employees will receive no salary increase this year, including the executive team."

RBS sources were also at pains to point out that Mr Hourican's £5m would be a maximum figure based on a long- term incentive plan that comes to an end in April. Final decisions on payments from it had yet to be made by the bank's remuneration committee. Ministers have been keen to damp down the public anger over bonuses amid sour relations with the City of London. But campaigners remain furious at the addiction to huge bonuses at a time when less fortunate workers have been suffering an unprecedented squeeze on incomes.

The TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Ordinary families are struggling to make ends meet, so it's perhaps not surprising that with the taxpayer the majority shareholder in the bank, public opinion is so against the continuing payment of huge bonuses at RBS. Stephen Hester may have handed back his bonus, but other senior executives at the bank are set to pocket large payouts from a bonus pot of millions."

The Robin Hood Tax campaign, a coalition of 115 UK organisations including Oxfam, Barnado's and Friends of the Earth that wants a tax on financial transactions to be levied to alleviate poverty, was similarly furious. David Hillman, the campaign's spokesman, said: "It is incredible that while the rest of us suffer, a loss-making bank bailed out by the taxpayer is allowed to pay out hundreds of millions in bonuses. The British public is getting a raw deal from RBS."

However, across the City there was a different view. Analysts argue that if RBS was not able to hold on to its staff it would not be able to pay back the taxpayer's investment.

The City commentator David Buik, from BGC Partners, said: "If the taxpayer wants repayment of its £45 bn, it will need to employ quality people. That costs money and a competitive bonus structure."