Grossart - bank blame game is the 'new opiate of our age'

ONE of Scotland's senior financial figures has used his latest annual report to take a swipe at critics of the banks who themselves failed to spot problems ahead of the crisis.

Sir Angus Grossart, who chairs the Edinburgh merchant bank, Noble Grossart, said blame apportioned by self-proclaimed banking experts was "the new opiate of our age" - despite these critics not being able to identify the crisis before it happened.

"But where were these experts, before it all began to go wrong?" he asks.

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In his chairman's statement to the latest accounts, he writes: "The immediate landscape features much rocky ground, often obscured by swirling mists over which there is little predictability, or conventional control.

"This has provided many of life's spectators with much scope for self-denial and exculpation, encouraged by that invariable handmaiden, the attribution of fault to others.

"Omniscient financial hindsight and assumed banking expertise are, indeed, the new opiate of our age."

In the year to the end of January 2011, Noble Grossart made a pre-tax profit of 6.9 million, down from 10m last year, while income slid to 10.1m from 13.2m.

But the firm resumed its 15-a-share final dividend, after the group did not pay an interim dividend. Following the dividend payment, the bank added the remaining 4.6m to its reserves.

Grossart said the bank, which owns shares in bus maker Alexander Dennis and art auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull, made "marked and positive progress" which gave the bank "visibility" in "this opaque financial world".

The bank saw the value of its listed investment rise from 41.1m to 67.7m while the amount of the firm's own bank debt decreased 6.9m in the year to 2m.

Grossart ended his statement with an exhortation to readers to be both wary and brave.

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"If now is the time to be wary, which could continue for two or three years, it is also a time to be brave," he says.

"The opportunities are there, I am sure, for those who have the imagination and courage, to look and rise beyond the present downturn.

"Always remember that difficult times do not last forever, our own future confidence is amply validated by our strong progress in 2011."

Recently Grossart, along with bus tycoons Brian Souter and Ann Gloag, formed part of a consortium that acquired the Turkish ferry business Istanbul Deniz Otonuslen (IDO) for $861m (534m).

The same trio, along with tyre-fitting pioneer Sir Tom Farmer, fellow Noble Grossart director Ewan Brown and food firm boss Alastair Salvesen have also backed the 175-year-old Airdrie Savings Bank with a 10m investment to expand its operations.

Grossart is also an influential figure in government and the arts.He chairs the Scottish Futures Trust, a procurement agency designed to oversee public investment in new schools, roads and hospitals.

Grossart owns 70 per cent of the merchant bank he founded in 1969. The Queen Street-based bank has 17 employees.

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