Banker used to brickbats aims to keep his head

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DURING banking hours last year Barclays was lending pounds 350 a second to borrowers who - it now transpires - were not going to pay the money back. Its loans were turning sour at the rate of pounds 21,000 a minute or pounds 1.2m an hour, writes Patrick Hosking.

Andrew Buxton, the chairman and chief executive, insisted at yesterday's news conference that he at least was not to blame for this breathtaking largesse.

He referred vaguely to 'people who set policies in the past'. He teasingly admitted that 'some careers had suffered' within the bank. But he made plain that one head at least should not have to roll - that of Andrew Robert Fowell Buxton.

It was a solid if uninspiring performance from a banker who has got used to brickbats. As a member of one of the founding families of the bank, he is inured to barbs about nepotism. In the past year he has been attacked about his dual job (and has grudgingly agreed to split it).

But now he faces the charge of gross incompetence. It is all most unfortunate for a man who rose effortlessly to the top of Britain's biggest bank. The silver spoon rarely left his lips. After Winchester, Oxford, and the Grenadier Guards he joined the family firm and never looked back.

In his thirties he gained a reputation among colleagues for interfering in other people's lending decisions. He often proved to be right. But it is an unfortunate trait as he now struggles to distance himself from the lending follies of recent years.

By 1979, when he was given responsibility for the corporate division, it was clear he was being groomed for the highest ranks of the bank. When the integrated securities house BZW was set up in 1986, it was dull-but-steady Buxton whom the clearing bank installed to curb those unpredictable jobbers and brokers.

He became managing director of the entire bank in 1988, the year when Barclays went to its shareholders for pounds 922m in fresh capital. It was that rights issue that fuelled an unprecedented lending spree, much of the money going to property developers.

Aged 53 and married with two daughters, Buxton seems rather colourless beside his football- crazy predecessor, Sir John Quinton. He admits to having no outside interests. Some angry shareholders would like him to develop some absorbing ones and pursue them full-time. For the moment, though, he survives.