Comment: Commission fails to call bankers to account

Terry Murden. Picture: TSPL
Terry Murden. Picture: TSPL
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SIR James Crosby has taken over the mantle of Britain’s most hated banker. “Worse than Fred Goodwin!” screamed one headline last week, the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief who is clearly regarded as the benchmark for failure.

The now-vilified former HBOS chief executive Crosby, together with his former chairman Lord Stevenson and successor Andy Hornby, have thus far managed to dodge most of the bullets fired in the banking crisis. Yet their contribution to what went wrong was truly spectacular.

The report by the parliamentary commission on banking standards, published last week, was scathing to the point of exaggeration, though did it really take four years for us to be told what we already knew?

Some would argue that the report contained too much hyperbole and not enough in the way of recommendation about what should happen next. Apart from demanding that the three culprits be barred from working in the financial services sector, they were hardly left bleeding and screaming.

Why no call for Crosby and Stevenson to be stripped of their titles, as happened to Goodwin? Why no insistence on some sort of recompense for shareholders or clawback of bonuses?

Crosby immediately resigned as an adviser to private equity firm Bridgepoint and may also part company with catering firm Compass where he is a £125,000 a year part-time director. Despite some loose talk yesterday, Hornby’s position as the £500,000 a year chief executive of bookmaker Coral (gambling seems to be his forte) looks to be safe. Likewise for Stevenson who is a non-executive director at bookseller Waterstones.

Clearly their own bank accounts have not suffered even if their reputations have, and recommendations they be barred from the sector may fall foul of a three-year rule governing investigations into wrongdoing. Far from being punished they have got off relatively lightly.

PAYE changes a real pain

THE coalition came to power promising to cut back on red tape. So how on earth did the Westminster government come up with the real time information (RTI) scheme which is threatening to cause chaos for thousands of small businesses?

RTI is the biggest change to the way employees are paid since 1944 and HM Revenue and Customs says it will improve the operation of the Pay As You Earn system. Information must be submitted each time employees are paid, rather than annually. It is supposed to simplify the process and make it less burdensome.

The scheme came into effect yesterday for small firms and will be introduced for others in October, but already there is an outcry over it. The Forum of Private Business warned last month that 18 per cent, almost a fifth, of firms did not have the system in place.

The change is coming about as part of the government’s welfare reform, allowing officials to make appropriate changes when a claimant’s earnings change.

But the Chartered Institute of Taxation is among those warning that the change could be the last straw for many struggling firms, not helped by reports that in some cases the software has crashed and that they are unhappy at the cost of installing it and seeking professional advice.

HMV deal cheers high street blues

THE rescue of HMV was the best bit of good news the beleaguered high street has received for some time, not only for those who still prefer to browse through racks of DVDs rather than download their music.

Hilco, which initially acquired the debt, last week paid £50 million to reopen 141 stores and save 2,500 jobs. It was also welcomed by record labels and film studios who regarded the chain as a shop window for their output.

The deal, together with the rescue of Jessops by the television tycoon Peter Jones, may in some ways be a watershed for retailing. It is too early to declare war on the high street to be over, but there is clearly still faith in bricks and mortar.

The secret is getting the right balance of online and outlets, having competitive prices and ensuring stock is available. John Lewis has done it perfectly, Comet and JJB Sports did not.

HMV has been given a reprieve, but with no guarantee that Hilco can make it work. What is needed is for those who mourned its demise to head down town and pack the stores.

Twitter: @TerryMurden1