VINCE Cable, who led the Commons and the public into battle against greed and recklessness in Britain’s banking sector, has had a change of mind.
The Business Secretary was a determined advocate for splitting the banks as the only way to prevent a repeat of the 2007-09 crisis.
But on this issue there have been many voices and last week produced another division of opinion on the future structure of the banks.
Cable has listened to the arguments and come down in favour of ringfencing high street functions from investment banking divisions, as proposed by the Vickers Commission, which now forms part of the government’s reform bill.
So has the self-appointed bank basher in chief gone soft? Well, only slightly. There is little point setting up inquiries if ministers do not take heed of their advice. Cable is supporting Vickers against the parliamentary commission on banking standards led by Andrew Tyrie which last week called for “electrification” of the ringfence and a reserve power of separation if the banks should fail to make it work.
Tyrie’s concern is that the banks will find ways of breaching the ringfence - and it is not difficult to see why or how. Designing and policing it will be an enormous and costly exercise, absorbing up to £4.5 billion of bank capital at a time when businesses are crying out for loans and the banks themselves require stronger reserves. A complex structure such as this cannot be watertight and sceptics believe the banks will find ways around the rules.
Cable’s main concern, however, seems to be that having the threat of full break-up hanging over the banks would create further uncertainty. Tyrie’s comments certainly impacted on bank shares amid worries that the regulators would be given too much power to intervene.
Neither ringfencing nor separation look to be the solution to avoiding any future crisis as the banks and other financial services companies are quite capable of developing new ways of causing a scandal. Money laundering? Mis-selling of insurance products? Rigging interest rates?
Greed and recklessness will always find an outlet.
Not all bad as grim year ends
AS WE head into the festive season the economy has benefited from a sprinkling of goodwill from those industries that have remained buoyant throughout a difficult 2012.
The downturn has not been suffered universally. As we report opposite, Nissan’s injection of cash into the British car industry continues a process that has seen it enjoy one of its best years for some time.
Food and drink, and scotch whisky in particular, is continuing to underpin a large part of the Scottish economy. Like the motor industry, it has achieved success from focusing on emerging markets.
Arguably the biggest winner is The North Sea oil and gas industry. Its revival in fortunes was given a further lift on Friday with Statoil’s decision to go ahead with a $7 billion investment that had been shelved last year because of the Treasury’s 2011 windfall tax.
Industries that require long-term planning constantly complain of such short-term thinking by politicians. Chancellor George Osborne has seen the error of his ways and is now offering incentives to encourage development.
This U-turn will have an instant benefit, creating 700 jobs and will top up the £8bn in tax revenues paid annually by the industry.