Julian Knight: Thanks a lot, Sir Fred. Now please slither into history
So The Shred gives up part of his pension; we're still furious, but it's time to move on
Sunday 21 June 2009
Bless Sir Fred "the Shred" Goodwin, who in an act of pure Mother Teresa-style selflessness has voluntarily given up some of his huge pension – available at age 50, 10 years before the normal retirement age – secured during the death throes of his disastrous time at the top of RBS (now, in effect, government-owned).
Putting aside the burning question of how Sir Fred can possibly be able to live on a pension of a mere £342,000 a year, (perhaps we ought to organise a whip-round for him? Oh, I forgot, the Government has already done that for us), what's really important about Sir Fred's decision is that it doesn't damage the principle that once a pension is given a company can't come along and take it back. There was a real danger that because of the stupidity and immorality of giving The Shred such a bumper retirement pot in the first place, a fundamental principle of worker/employee relations was going to be ditched.
OK, I reckon there is barely a person in the UK who wouldn't have liked to see Sir Fred lose the lot – particularly the thousands RBS workers made redundant this year– but, by bringing this about, there was the possibility that others, outside of the grotesques of the banking world, may have suffered down the line.
As for Sir Fred, maybe he feels that with so much righteous anger being targeted at MPs, this is the time to start the rehabilitation necessary to emerge back into public and business life. Part of me would hate that – It would confirm that the old-boy network is more brazen than ever – but another part of me thinks that, really, we need to move on from Sir Fred. After all, anger also sucks the life out of the person feeling it. Collectively, we'd probably be better off to draw a line under him and the other bankers, and leave them, hopefully, to the cold, clammy embrace of obscurity.
Insurers make merry
The first indication from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders of how successful the Government's car-scrappage scheme has been will come this week. My Fiat dealer told me the other day that he has seen a dramatic upturn in trade since the scheme was introduced. This is only one dealer, of course, in a prosperous part of the country, specialising in the sort of small cars that would likely be within the price range of those taking advantage of the £2,000 grant for trading in their old bangers, so it's hardly definitive proof. But it's not just my dealer who is making merry – car insurers are joining in with the imposition of, in my view, unwarranted and over-the-top "mid-term adjustment" fees. This catchily named fee is levied whenever a customer changes cars during the life of a policy.
Now it's fair enough that if you change from an old banger to a brand spanking new motor you should have your premium adjusted, but what justification do the insurers have for levying a fee as high as £35 for just carrying out the transaction? They would argue it's an extra administration cost, but surely all it takes is a few minutes' conversation and some documents through the post. We are possibly talking pennies, not pounds, here. The truth is it's just another way of squeezing the consumer, in the same way that if you want to cancel a policy you have to pay a hefty fee. I remember two years ago paying £45 to get out of a £350 motor-insurance contract.
I have been concerned for a long time that car insurance is not honestly priced. Take a look at any price-comparison site and you will see huge differences in terms and conditions. Drill deeper and the "mid-term adjustments" and cancellation fees are hugely different. Some insurers even charge interest on policies paid for by monthly direct debits. Ever since I have been in personal finance journalism, I have had insurers bleating about how car cover is actually a loss-maker for them, it seems that their way around this is confusion marketing and the imposition of unfair fees.
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