‘We must encourage mutual respect between the UK and its bankers’

July August 2015 Opinion Simon Walker UK Banking Sector Mark Carney

In this month’s column IoD director general Simon Walker talks about respecting bankers, standing up to protest groups, protecting the airline industry from strike action, and freedom of information rules

This year’s chancellor’s speech at Mansion House, alongside the governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, ushered in, I thought, a pleasing change of tone.

The age of banker-bashing has run its course and we seem to have moved on from a politics that crudely lays the blame for all economic woes at the door of our financial institutions.

New criminal liability rules have (quite rightly) been announced for errant bankers; and as George Osborne says, those “who fraudulently manipulate markets and commit financial crime should be treated like the criminals they are – and they will be”.

But we should be careful, I think, about extending this level of responsibility to non-executive directors. When an individual decides to manipulate a key exchange rate for personal gain, the full force of the law ought to apply.

But if NEDs were ever included in the scope of the criminal responsibility rules then I suspect we’d see a significant reduction in the number of talented people willing to sit on boards.

Banks have been brought into line largely by the use of sticks over carrots. It is now time we rein in the punitive banking levy, or risk seeing banks such as Standard and Chartered and HSBC defecting to Europe or Asia. And frankly, they’d be right to do so. As the Roman emperor Tiberius wrote: “It is the part of a good shepherd to shear his flock, not skin it.”

We must find a new normal for the relationship between the UK and its banking sector. The country should respect and value its financial services industry, and that sector must in turn respect and value the people and businesses of the UK. I do hope that the chancellor’s recent Mansion House speech goes some way to achieving this.

Protests at the Royal Opera House

July August 2015 Opinion Simon Walker La Boheme Royal Banking Sector

Protesters recently interrupted a performance of La Bohème at the Royal Opera House because of the institution’s partnership with BP. This simply cannot be tolerated.

It is vital that the ROH stands up against these bullies and refuses to take them seriously. The protesters’ demands that the institution severs its ties with BP must be refused.

If they yield, it will simply serve as an invitation to any activist group to interrupt anything they like and, worse, discourage businesses from being a rightful part of the cultural community.

As Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem Dane-geld:

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!”

If they relent – or even consider abandoning their partnership – other protest groups will keep coming back demanding more.

Protect the airline industry from strike action

July August 2015 Opinion Simon Walker on the Banking Sector

In an unprecedented move, the chief executives of Europe’s five biggest airlines have held a joint press conference to call for a series of measures to protect the industry and passengers from strike action.

Most interesting is their demand for access to new technology to permit air space over a country to stay open to flights in spite of air traffic controllers striking.

This annual summer charade whereby airlines and holidaymakers are held to ransom has got to stop. The long-term solution is an Uberisation of the skies – automating the knowledge and skills of air traffic controllers.

I just hope the European Commission listens to the pleas of the airline industry. Businesses and passengers will stand to gain the most.

No to vetoes
It’s regrettable that the government is manipulating Freedom of Information rules to make it more difficult to get answers to requests.

The notion of factoring in costly ‘thinking time’ for officials to hunt down relevant information strikes me as bureaucratic obstructionism.

Personnel records and sensitive information should, of course, be kept from public view. But yet another plan making ministerial vetoes easier, to prevent publication of specific documents, is wrong.


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About author

Simon Walker

Simon Walker

Simon Walker served as director general of the IoD from September 2011 until January 2017, having enjoyed a career spanning business, politics and public service. From 2007 to 2011 he was chief executive of the BVCA, the organisation that represents British private equity and venture capital. Walker has previously held senior roles at 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, British Airways and Reuters.

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