Buxton faces rising hostility from Barclays shareholders: Patrick Hosking finds investors keen on rolling heads at the troubled bank

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The Independent Online
LARGE shareholders in Barclays Bank want Andrew Buxton, the chairman and chief executive, sacked. But they fear the non-executive directors are too craven to oust him, a straw poll of institutional investors suggests.

Most of the pension funds, insurance companies and fund managers contacted by the Independent yesterday said Mr Buxton should bear responsibility for the lending mistakes that culminated in the pounds 2.6bn of sour loans announced on Wednesday.

All agreed that tough outside talent was needed to strengthen the Barclays board. Many were critical of the 'cosy, clubby' non- executive directors, who approved the original appointment of Mr Buxton as chairman and chief executive. Mr Buxton has since agreed to split the role at an unspecified future date.

One fund manager, who described himself as 'covered in manure' having bought Barclays shares in the past, said of Mr Buxton: 'He should go. He's been sufficiently close to the top for him to be accountable. But the truth is there is no mechanism to achieve this.'

The non-executives were 'a waste of space - they're all part of the same club'. There was little chance of change: 'It would require the Bank of England intervening to do it. You'd have to get a group of institutions to go to the Bank and say they have no confidence in this management.'

The investment head of another large institution said: 'The results were appalling. The bad debt write-off was disastrous. They need to strengthen senior management. On balance he (Mr Buxton) should go.'

He said the ideal chairman would be a businessman like Sir Christopher Hogg, chairman of Courtaulds Textiles. Sir Peter Middleton, the deputy chairman and a former civil servant, would not be suitable.

Another senior institutional investor echoed those sentiments. He distinguished between 'active' non-executives such as Sir Derek Birkin, and 'passive, less comforting' ones like Sir Nigel Mobbs. But even the active ones went along with the original idea to combine the two top jobs.

'I'd like to see Attila the Hun go in, actually. I'd like to see an extremely tough, nasty businessman as chairman. The kind of person is Lord King. I'm not suggesting he'd be appropriate, but that's the kind of style.'

Another fund manager said Barclays shares were cheap after Thursday's plunge: 'We're hoovering them up today. We'd be buying even more aggressively if Buxton was resigning.'

Most agreed there was a shortage of good clearing bankers: 'You need a hard-headed banker who is his own man and weighty enough to stand up to the cosy clubby Barclays culture, someone like (Brian) Pitman (chief executive of Lloyds Bank).'

Only one of eight institutions contacted said Mr Buxton should definitely stay: 'It's fashionable to say he should fall on his sword. I think it's a bit glib to say that. But I do think he has a problem with credibility.' A Barclays spokesman said institutions it had contacted since the results were supportive of Mr Buxton.

(Photograph omitted)