Having gone bust more than a year ago, Peacocks is really living up to its name. The failed mass-market fashion chain is preening for all it's worth. And with the help of Lawrence Tomlinson, advisor to U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable, the old bird seems to be trying to pin the blame for its 2012 collapse on the Royal Bank of Scotland. As if butter wouldn't melt.
In fact, thanks to Tomlinson – whose recent report suggested that RBS deliberately drove firms to the wall for its own benefit, a roll call of failed companies is lining up to implicate the U.K. lender.
For the likes of former Peacocks chief executive Richard Kirk it has been a fine full-feathered display. But, whatever the threats of strutting off to the Serious Fraud Office, one thing must be clear: like the bird itself, the arguments don't really fly. Where is the evidence of this RBS turkey, or indeed Peacock, shoot?
In 2006, Peacocks was delisted from the stock market in a £404 million deal backed by hedge funds Och-Ziff, Perry Capital and a coterie of smaller backers assembled by Goldman Sachs. Before the buyout, Peacocks had about £70 million of net debt and after this ballooned to £460 million. This included the cost of the acquisition and a PIK (Payment in Kind) note charging 17.2 percent. By 2010, the PIK had snowballed to £301 million.
Meanwhile, Kirk cashed out £13.5 million. He also pocketed £4.8 million in salary and bonuses over the four years, giving himself a 60 percent pay rise in 2010 to take home £1.8 million.
Two years later, Peacocks had collapsed under the weight of £700 million in debts and a series of expensive leases. Insiders say the last minute deal chased with a Monaco businessman amounted to very little and RBS, along with the other 14 syndicate lenders, were left with the choice of injecting more capital for a non-viable business or administration.
And it's not just Peacocks. HMV, the failed CD-store, Clintons the gift card shop and property group Connaught are also delinquent corporates being championed by Tomlinson.
These companies shared more than just RBS as a lender. They had too much debt, mis-managed their working capital and failed because their business models no longer worked in the structures created. Passing the buck to RBS is a cheap shot.
The bank is by no means perfect, but it's hard to argue it didn't work alongside HMV for more than a year to try and sell off divisions, or step up to inject £25m of capital into travel agent Thomas Cook, saving 32,000 jobs and safeguarding 250,000 holiday makers. About 800 companies a year go into RBS's workout group. Just 10 percent end up in administration. The rest enjoy the benefits of relaxed covenants and pushed out repayment bullets – "extending and pretending" in banking parlance. After about three years most are sent back to the good bank, sold or re-financed – see Pendragon and Samsonite.
So while blaming RBS may play well with a bank-loathing public, with £45 billion of taxpayers money invested, it's for the birds.
- By CNBC's Helia Ebrahimi, follow her on Twitter @heliaebrahimi