James Ashton: Continuity creeps back in but it's no bad thing

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The Independent Online

These past two weeks were meant to be a good time to bury bad news. But much of the corporate trading updates simply confirmed what we already knew.

For example, business at pastymaker Greggs, always one of the best indicators of broader High Street performance, was underwhelming over the past few months. The publicity over the ultimately defeated pasty tax couldn't offset sales lost to the spring deluge that emptied shoppers from the streets.

What has trickled out, though, are board changes, beyond Sir David's arrival at Barclays, that might have received greater scrutiny if the City didn't have its gaze distracted by heroics at London 2012.

Housebuilder Bellway had no qualms about promoting its chief executive John Watson to replace retiring Howard Dawe as chairman even though the corporate governance brigade say that sort thing shouldn't happen any more.

Over at Lloyd's of London insurer Hiscox, something similar happened. After almost five decades of service Robert Hiscox, who unwinds two weeks a year by going big-game hunting in darkest Africa, announced he would hand over to Robert Childs, his chief underwriting officer, when he steps back in February.

Of course, you can argue it either way. Investors are working harder these days at stamping out cosy boardroom clubs but there is a lot to be said for continuity. At Bellway, Watson has already spent 34 years at the firm. Would an outsider really bring greater wisdom to the board?

Hiscox has strong views on this subject, claiming that: "A few more insiders at the helms of some other financial institutions in the City might have stopped some of the idiocy that occurred." On balance, he might have a point.

Carry on, Sir David.