Property: Honestly, Chef Ramsey, it’s not just you getting screwed…

Blimey, if banks had ears, there’d be a set burning bright scarlet this week. During several conversation with property players and professionals, my eyes have widened at the venom out there in the property marketplace and beyond for this big player in the UK market, good god, how short do they think people’s memories are? What happens when things eventually start easing off and we get some good times again, as we inevitably will sooner or later. Do they think people will forget being treated like the proverbial?

I was with this particular bank back in 06/07, having been talked into using them for all my business banking. They pretty much screwed me on the ‘deal’ immediately and the die was cast for a default position of mistrust. Zero help, constant battles and absolutely none of the support or blossoming relationship I’d been promised. I didn’t blame the guy who’d tempted me in, I believe he was as surprised as I was at the turn things took. It’s all very well to say ‘what did you expect, banks are there to make money’, this of course is true, but good banking relationships in business are mutually beneficial and there should be a reliable relationship in good times and in bad.

The crux came for me in Autumn 07, I was quite ill at the time and under a lot of pressure managing the refurb of a three apartment building where the whole point was to roll it up into the finance with the bank once the refurb was finished. I re-iterate, the whole point of moving to this bank was to grow the business and the value of the property had increased by virtue of the works done, even with the then beginning uncertainty of the market. Talk about prevarication, they ummed and ahhed and stalled and time wasted and asked for more info, then changed what info they needed, all the time telling me it was going to happen, I just had to wait. And wait. And wait. It was not only unsettling, upsetting and infuriating, it was costing me money they knew I didn’t have with every passing month, as the bridging finance was in place the whole time. Every week they promised to come up with the deal then didn’t, they were driving me insane. Then something happened which, to a self-employed bod like me, was Very Scary. I’d finally completely exploded on the phone at the young bank guy who’d been given the task of ‘looking after me’ and he’d gone to his superior, a woman he said was head honcho managing the North West area. My phone rang and it was her, I’ll always remember it, I was standing in the living room holding a roll of wallpaper. I’d have bopped her with it if she’d been standing in front of me. After a lot of BS, she blatantly fibbed, telling me I’d already been given the deal and knew the percentage, even though I knew they’d just changed the goalposts, again, and the last few stressful months had been a complete waste of time and money.

Ms Astley, she finally said, we need to feel that we are in full control, that’s why this is happening the way it is. Everything, at that moment, stopped for me. Full control? I’m sorry, full control? You want to be in ‘full control’ of my business? I’m the one in business, the one who works my ass off every day of the week and you’re the effing bank, yet you wanted to control me? I put the phone down and completely lost the plot, the air was violet, indigo and royal blue! Mr M saw a rather frightening side to me that day. It was like they’d spent so long dealing with property clients they felt like they were the dealers, they’d put so many ‘deals’ together, they felt like they were the ones ‘doing’ the deals, when all they actually do is piss about with other people’s money and take none of the risks.

All of a sudden I absolutely lost any faith in them and realised they’d had no intention of ever doing this deal, they’d been making it as difficult as possible in the hope I’d walk away from them. It was a revelation, after the years of banks throwing money at people, property and businesses. In many ways they were acting sensibly, reigning in the lending and being more strict but it was the way they did it, sneaky, underhand, obfuscous, just not upfront at all. They knew they were costing me money and damaging my business, but delayed anyway, what sort of relationship is that? New school banking, that’s what.

At the time we’d a friend who also banked with them, and had done so for far longer being far more successful in business than I. I remember saying to him, for christ’s sake, be careful, things are going to get really rocky and they’ve no morals, they’ll screw you if they feel they have to. No, he said, that’ll never happen, I’m a valued client and they said they would always look after me. He stayed with them. He’s now being forced to sell part of his portfolio, has to account for every penny spent and has realised he no longer runs his own business. After the conversations I’ve had this last week, it appears he’s not alone. They’re calling in loans on business after business, despite good trading and no loan defaults, demanding alterations in agreements, changing terms and lengths of loans just because they feel like it. Even Chef Ramsey’s not immune….

RBS, which granted Gordon Ramsay Holdings a £10.6million overdraft in 2006, has secured a ‘unilateral notice’ against Ramsay’s seven-bedroom address on Wandsworth Common, South-West London. The house, which he bought in 2002 with his wife Tana, 37, was separate from the business.

But it is now security for the bank against the company’s debts which have soared to a reputed £17million. The unilateral notice ensures RBS will be at the head of a list of creditors if the company goes under.

Adrian Wilcocks, a forensic accountant with KPMG, said: ‘RBS, having advanced money to the Ramsay business, now wants some security. There will be various conditions attached. The house is being pushed into filling any hole that may exist.’

Of course I understand that Gordo on a bit of a sticky wicket and has extended his borrowing just a tad more than most, but you get my drift. So why is this happening? Simple. To balance the books and to make their bottom line look better, ’cause the faster that happens, the faster they get out of the clutches of the government and the bleating taxpayer. And I can understand that.

But surely the risk for them, a bank previously considered honourable, trustworthy and a stalwart British institution, is that there is a chance no-one will ever want to bank with them again……

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