Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas

Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West, reports on the Tory-led government's failure to take action on bankers' bonuses, despite all the pre-election rhetoric.

Rachel Reeves is the Member of Parliament for Leeds West

The new year kicked into life this week in Parliament – but the City will be feeling like it is Christmas again. First, Bob Diamond confirmed to the Treasury select committee that at no point have the Chancellor or the prime minister asked him – or presumably any other banker – to show restraint in the size of his bonus. And second, George Osborne took to the floor of the House on Tuesday to confirm the huge shift from the pre-election rhetoric to the post election inaction.

Bonuses this year are expected to total around £7 billion, and it looks like, just three years after the global financial crisis, bankers can breathe a sigh of relief, with their bank balances – if not their reputations – intact.

While welfare is being cut by £18bn, the VAT hike will bring in £13bn, with the banking levy bringing in just £1.2bn this year, compared with the £3.5bn bonus tax revenues last year.

Mr Diamond came before the Treasury select committee in the wake of the government’s refusal to take up the recommendations of the Walker Review in relation to disclosure of pay and bonuses. Pre election, the business secretary, Vince Cable said that:

“… for banks in general, transparency is a minimum requirement. All highly paid staff in regulated institutions with a compensation package in excess of the prime minister’s £200,000 should publish details of their remuneration.”

But post-election, George Osborne now refuses to adopt this practice unless there is EU-wide agreement, which is unlikely. Taxpayers – and shareholders more generally – can’t possibly scrutinise board decisions if they can’t even see high level pay and bonuses.

And nowhere does the cry of ‘we’re all in this together’ seem more hollow than when it comes to the nationalised banks – RBS and Lloyds. In 2009, George Osborne said that:

“… there can be no justification for using taxpayer support and guarantees to pay cash into the bankers when the rest of the economy is in such desperate need of that cash. Cash for the economy – not cash for bonuses.”

And then that favourite line:

“We’re all in this together.”

Around the same time David Cameron called for a £2,000 bonus cap for as long as the taxpayer retained a stake. Yet the chief executive of one of those banks – RBS – looks set to receive a £2.5m bonus. A quick glance at the financial pages of the papers shows the RBS share price up 40.4p yesterday, compared to 52.5p this time last year, and Lloyds shares are valued at 66.4p, compared to 64.5p a year ago.

My constituents in Leeds West would not expect a bonus for that sort of performance, businesses up and down the country wouldn’t expect a bonus for failing to increase the value of their business, so how can it be right that taxpayers’ money will be used for bonuses in our nationalised banks?

As Alan Johnson put it, George Osborne seems to think that children and students, rather than bankers, have the broadest shoulders. But there is an alternative. An alternative where the institutions responsible for the financial crisis must help with deficit reduction and rebalancing the economy. That’s why Ed Miliband committed on Monday to extend the tax on bank bonuses which brought in £3.5bn last year alone. The legislation is there, it would have support across the country and, I believe, on all sides of the House.

But with the new year being defined by this inaction, I fear that expecting the Tory-led government to regulate bonuses ‘robustly’ is a little too much like thinking that turkeys might vote for Christmas. The banks have been let off.

23 Responses to “Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas”

  1. MD-G

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas: http://bit.ly/fp0FEC says @_RachelReeves_

  2. checkpointcharlie

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas: http://bit.ly/fp0FEC says @_RachelReeves_

  3. Matt Jeffs

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas: http://bit.ly/fp0FEC says @_RachelReeves_

  4. Neil Walshaw

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas: http://bit.ly/fp0FEC says @_RachelReeves_

  5. Éoin Clarke

    The idea is to incentivize activity that makes the employees endeavours more fruitful and rewarding. But when this becomes, sell 100 Platinum Credit Cards and gain commission of £2k, then very quickly miss-selling sets in. When mortgage brokers are set targets for the percentage of commission they are expected to bring in, they very quickly start over-valuing homes to maximise their dividend. When customers approach banks unsure of their cash flow, all too often the bank advisor instructs them to apply for a loan instead of an overdraft, in order to maximise the return on interest rates. Most worryingly of all, when bank clerks develop relationships with consumer credit rating agencies to wipe an applicant’s history clean to enable to qualify for a mortgage, they knowingly take risks upon the company’s assets. There are probably an infinite number of ways the staff employed in financial institutions at all the various levels, seek to grow the company’s portfolio with no regard to future risk. If a superbug, let’s say MRSA, enters the city hospital on Ward A, you can bet that Ward B will soon be infected. No sooner has this occurred than a patient transferal to the Royal hospital, brings the bug with them. Auditing procedures at hospitals are crucial to prevent contamination. On occasion, deep cleans are required to root out any hidden germs. And yet, an equally important sector, our banks, have no deep cleans, precious few transparent audits. Bribing staff to increase the risk they take on, simply to inflate an asset portfolio to convey the illusion of success is very dangerous.

  6. Graham Galloway

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas: http://bit.ly/fp0FEC says @_RachelReeves_

  7. Bryony Victoria King

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas: http://bit.ly/fp0FEC says @_RachelReeves_

  8. georgereadings

    So true RT @leftfootfwd: Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas http://bit.ly/hlXQRN

  9. Jessica Finn

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas: http://bit.ly/fp0FEC says @_RachelReeves_

  10. Mary

    #twitter Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas http://dld.bz/FvaH

  11. smudger

    Eoin,

    You misdiagnose the problem: bonuses for regular retail bank workers are relatively small, and form part of their overall remuneration. Most bank employees in these roles earn less than the average income. There may be incentives for selling products but these are regulated and the risks measured and controlled carefully. The problem bonuses are those paid to investment bankers, where the rewards are measured in millions, not a few hundred pounds.

    As for your claim about wiping an applicant’s credit history, this simply cannot and does not happen. Credit histories are managed and maintained by credit reference agencies, and supplied to any subscribing lender. They are not subject to the individual whims of bank clerks trying to increase their product sales.

  12. Anon E Mouse

    Rachel Reeves – Since the last government – the Labour Party you are a part of – signed an agreement with the banks to allow these bonuses.

    Two years from now it will all be forgotton…

  13. Mark Stevo

    What happened to the bonus Reeves received when she was at HBOS?

  14. David Morris

    When Labour were in government, they clearly failed to regulate bonuses.

    People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  15. Mr. Sensible

    David, the whole global regulatory system failed. Everyone accepts that.

    I think you are entirely right, Rachel. George Osborne is a political opportunist.

    When in opposition, did he not criticize the then Chancellor for waiting for international agreement on a transaction tax? And now he’s waiting for international agreement on disclosure.

    The amount of times he says that ‘we’re all in this together’, it won’t surprise me if Osborne stands up on budget day and scraps VAT on Highschool Musical merchandise!

  16. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas http://bit.ly/hlXQRN Great headline

  17. Stephen W

    The sheer chutzpah of writing an article with that title is incredible.

    The Coalition (including the Tories) has not stopped massive banker bonuses.

    But compared to what Labour did they have moved heaven and earth and dug up the City and put it back down again from the bottom up.

    Labour did absolutely nothing. They signed ridiculous contracts that allowed even Fred Goodwin to take massive pay and bonuses. They propped up the banks in an incredibly expensive manner that basically wrote the City a blank cheque at the taxpayer’s expense. They did nothing.

    The Bank levy will raise £2.5 billion. The Bonus tax raised £2.3 billion net. Guess which number is bigger?

    Not to mention the fact that ALISTAIR DARLING (you may remember him) said publicly that the Bonus Tax was a failure.

    And the unfortunate fact the bonus tax actually failed to curb bonuses, it just meant banks wasted more of their shareholder’s money so they could pay the same bonuses. Not actually what you want when bank’s balance sheets and general lending is weak.

    The Coalition’s less flashy structural reforms will probably be considerably more effective in the long run.

  18. Bryonny G-H

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas http://bit.ly/hlXQRN

  19. Mr. Sensible

    “The Bank levy will raise £2.5 billion. The Bonus tax raised £2.3 billion net. Guess which number is bigger?”

    Stephen I’m afraid we’ve been there before.

    And since we’re talking about structural reforms, if what the government is talking about is so good, why did it fail in the states with the consequences we all know about?

    It doesn’t matter where you put each piece of fernature; each one has to know what the others are doing.

  20. Look Left – Miliband hails "first step in a long journey" as Labour hold Oldham | Left Foot Forward

    […] policy area, however, is anyone’s guess. As Rachel Reeves MP, writing on Left Foot Forward, pointed out: “With the new year being defined by this inaction [on bonuses], I fear that expecting the […]

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    […] Expecting Tories to regulate bonuses is like Turkeys voting for Christmas – Rachel Reeves, January 12th […]

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