Stop attacking bankers’ bonuses

No, of course I’m not suggesting for a moment that it’s acceptable, sensible or desirable that bank executives earn millions of pounds in bonuses whilst sitting on piles of taxpayers’ money.

But the almost exclusive focus of the media (and our MPs) on bankers’ bonuses and remuneration packages is diverting us from the even bigger issues at stake.

The prevalent culture within the banking sector, of short-term gains providing huge rewards, does need addressing but it’s the system that needs fixing.

That bonus culture is almost inevitable if the banking system is geared up to deliver maximum profit to shareholders regardless of what the long-term costs of those profits might be.

To change the culture, we need to change the system.

We need a banking system that accepts the social responsibilities and duties that come with the privilege of a banking licence.

Although bankers’ pay is highly visible and a nice thing for the media, MPs, think tanks and everyone else to attack, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

A £3m remuneration package is hefty, but it’s dwarfed next to a £3bn (or £5bn, or £7bn or…).

The bonuses that are paid out by banks reflect the profits they’re generating – they are in proportion.

It’s no good putting a bucket under a leak and hoping it’ll be okay. We need to fix the leak.

So while everyone is looking at the issue of salaries and bonuses, the opportunity to really get to grips with reform of the entire banking system is slipping away.

I’ve written before about the lack of ambition in the banking reform white paper and the Conservative’s banking reform policy green paper, but it’s not too late for a message to be sent to the treasury and to the political leaders of all parties.

We all need to respond to the white paper consultation.

Urban Forum is about to publish some specific and clear proposals which we want all the major political parties to adopt.

As a package, these proposals would transform the banking system by making it fairer and start to deliver some real tangible public benefit from the bailout.

We will also be suggesting some things that we can all do (individuals or organisations) to achieve the aim of real reform of the banking system.

Nothing is going to change unless we do something about it – the MPs’ allowances scandal shows how reluctant turkeys are to vote for Christmas.

The question you have to ask yourself is, do I care about the way the banks are acting and the damage their recklessness has caused?

If the answer is yes, then am I going to do something about it? Your choice…


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