Barclays agrees to separate top jobs (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Online

BARCLAYS Bank confirmed yesterday that it will split Andrew Buxton's role of chairman and chief executive, bowing to strong pressure from shareholders and the media.

Mr Buxton outlined the move - to be made 'at a time of our choosing' - in a letter to all senior executives dated 14 January. The letter sought to boost flagging morale and hit back at charges that he was ignoring shareholder opinion by pressing on with merging the roles.

'I have taken notice of what our shareholders think and will be taking steps to split the responsibilities,' Mr Buxton wrote. The letter concluded with a call for staff to 'roll up their sleeves and not allow outside factors to demoralise us'.

On his own combined job, Mr Buxton wrote: 'Some elements of the media have been critical of the amalgamation of the chairman and chief executive role, which has been Barclays' practice in the past.

'The Cadbury report on corporate governance recommends that there should be a clearly accepted division of responsibilities at the head of a company which will ensure a balance of power. It does not actually say that the roles should be split, but it does recommend there should be a strong independent element on the board.'

Mr Buxton said that with Sir Peter Middleton as executive deputy chairman and a 'wide range of experienced non-executives who outnumber the executives, I do feel that we have had in place, for some time, the checks and balances which Cadbury recommends.'

He added: 'Staff cannot fail to be aware of the criticisms being levelled at our industry at present. I am particularily conscious of the pressures these adverse comments put on all staff, as I know much of the criticism is unjustified.'

Mr Buxton also appeared yesterday to be on a collison course with unions when Barclays rejected outright the 1993 staff pay claim on the first day of talks. Union negotiators were dismayed at Barclays' stance, which followed National Westminster Bank's pay freeze announced last week, and Tuesday's declaration by Lloyds Bank that it was scrapping cost of living rises indefinitely.

Rob MacGregor, negotiator with the Banking Insurance and Finance Union, said last night: 'Barclays have rejected outright our claim for an across-the-board rise of 5.5 per cent. They blamed poor trading and said they were aware of the (pay) position at Lloyds and NatWest.

'Our talks with Barclays are in limbo, but we will meet again early in February. They have made no suggestion that they will be amending their normal negotiation procedure on pay. But it is clear they are looking at the Lloyds position very closely.'

Barclays was unable to confirm that talks had been suspended until February. Asked about the pay freezes adopted by the other banks, a spokeswoman said: 'Obviously we would be watching our competitors but that doesn't mean to say we will follow suit.'

The threatened strike over job losses at TSB Group scheduled for tomorrow has been called off after progress in talks between union and management at Acas, the conciliation service.