UK financial watchdog refuses to publish leaked RBS report

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Britain's financial watchdog has refused to publish a leaked report into the scandal at Royal Bank of Scotland's controversial restructuring unit, despite demands for its release by an influential committee of MPs.

Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) chief executive Andrew Bailey pushed back after receiving a letter last week from Tory MP and Treasury Committee chair Nicky Morgan, who raised concerns about a leak to the BBC last month and called for the report to be published in full.

But Mr Bailey said that publishing the skilled persons or Section 166 review - which collects insight about a firm's activities from third parties - would mean revealing confidential information about the individuals who contributed to it.

"However, I recognise that the public interest justifies greater disclosure of material in the report relevant to the complaints of former customers. It is therefore our intention to publish a detailed summary," he said.

Nicky Morgan sitting in crowd
Nicky Morgan has called on the FCA to publicly release a report into RBS' restructuring unit (PA)

Mr Bailey said the FCA has asked external lawyers to ensure the summary is a "fair and balanced" account of the report's findings, adding that the report is nearly ready for publication.

The FCA also has yet to decide whether the case requires a formal investigation.

Mr Bailey's offer falls short of Ms Morgan's demands, which echoed calls by the SME Alliance and lawyers suing RBS on behalf of businesses affected by the scandal - which allegedly saw RBS' turnaround unit GRG intentionally push businesses towards failure in hopes of picking up their assets on the cheap.

The study was commissioned by the regulator almost four years ago as part of its inquiry into its Global Restructuring Group (GRG) and while the FCA pledged last November to publish a "full account" from the skilled persons' report, it has so far refused to make it public.

Commenting on Mr Bailey's refusal, Ms Morgan said: "The Committee recognises that such reports are not intended for publication, and should in normal circumstances remain confidential.

"But the report is now in the hands of an unknown number of third parties. If closure is ever to be brought to this long-running issue, Parliament and the public need the account ordered by the regulator.

"And so we consider that the public interest in publication in this specific case is overwhelming."

Ms Morgan said the Treasury Committee is due to see the FCA in October, when the issue is likely to be raised.

The BBC reported late last month that the 361-page report showed 92% of "viable" firms seen by GRG experienced "inappropriate action", such as interest charges being raised or unnecessary fees imposed.

It also showed that only 10% of business customers put into GRG ever returned to the main bank.

RBS sign
RBS' Global Restructuring Group is accused of stripping firms for their assets (PA)

Market-sensitive details of RBS's compensation scheme for former GRG customers were also leaked in November 2016, but the FCA has yet to reveal the findings of their internal investigation.

But Mr Bailey hit back at claims that the FCA had a reputation for leaking information.

"The effective management of sensitive information is something I take very seriously. I am therefore, like you, concerned at the claim by the BBC that it has seen a copy of the report.

"I can confirm that we have initiated a leak enquiry and I will write again with the findings once it has completed," he said.

Mr Bailey added: "I also note your point that the FCA has been associated with past leaks.

We have no evidence of leaking from the FCA, but it is very important that if anyone has such evidence, they provide it to us so we can act."