James Moore: At least for the short term, gender quotas might be the best bet

Outlook: A majority of the EC’s nine female members reportedly oppose them

Tory backbenchers who are ready to go into battle for Britannia with the dastardly EU over attempts to reserve seats around the boardroom table for their heroine's sisters can probably rest easy. A vote on the plan has been deferred and it may yet be watered down to such an extent that even the most reactionary eurosceptic would probably find it hard to get too cross.

In part that's because the original plans, demanding that at least 40 per cent of boardroom seats at public companies be reserved for women – backed up by sanctions – might actually violate EU law.

In part, however, it's because they have been met by fierce opposition from some of the very people quotas are supposed to assist: a majority of the European Commission's nine female members reportedly oppose them, including the formidable Neelie Kroes.

The problem with quotas is that they are a rather blunt instrument and can be extremely insulting to people who have worked their socks off, only to have it suggested that they were offered a position solely because of their gender, ethnicity or disability.

I'm guessing this is at least partly what's behind the opposition from "Steely" Neelie and her colleagues – and it's understandable.

But how else do you secure progress? Attitudes at the higher levels of business are often prehistoric, as Lord Davies, who has urged a doubling of female representation on FTSE 100 boards by 2015, has stated.

The trouble is that his prescription for change – persuading, cajoling, pressurising – isn't working that well. And even if his target is reached, women will make up just 25 per cent of directors. In February he described an increase to 15 per cent as "amazing". He wouldn't have dared use such a term to describe such a moderate improvement in, say, profits in his days as a chief executive.

In business, the old boys' network still reigns supreme, and yesterday's climbdown can only reinforce that.

But need boardroom quotas today be such a bad thing?

Time and again I see examples of non-executives selected from traditional backgrounds – former directors, senior civil servants and the like – failing shareholders. If they'd done their jobs properly there wouldn't have been a "shareholder spring" dominated by rebellions over bosses' pay, because a properly functioning board would have listened to shareholders' concerns and addressed them, nipping rebellion in the bud.

Enforcing quotas of women might have the effect of providing companies with a greater diversity of skills and experience by forcing them to look beyond traditional candidates. What's more, the limited progress that has been made so far has chiefly been motivated by the threat of quotas. If that threat is lifted, we're likely to move swiftly into reverse.

State-run bank could work for borrowers

When it comes to lending to businesses, the banks are beginning to sound like scratched, vinyl records (they're making a comeback). Every month the British Bankers' Association releases figures showing they aren't doing much of it; and every month the banks say it's not their fault. "We've got the money but they don't want it," they moan.

This is the sort of defence used by criminal lawyers when their clients have been caught bang to rights: Deny, deny, deny. Then obfuscate, confuse, blow smoke, gloss over. Then deny, deny, deny again in the hope that by the end of the trial you'll have managed to cast enough doubt in the minds of enough naive jurors to get a mistrial.

There is a considerable demand for credit among British companies, which desperately need financing to take advantage of what might be those fabled green shoots of recovery , which will surely be choked off if businesses can't get credit.

That's partly why corporations such as GlaxoSmithKline have taken to playing lender: they too would like to grow but know they won't be able to do so if the smaller companies in their supply chains can't supply that growth because they can't get credit.

Fine and dandy if you're lucky enough to be operating in one of those supply chains. But what if you aren't?

With private-sector banks failing, and seemingly immune to pressure, the state may yet have to step in, and yesterday there were again suggestions of doing that, with Royal Bank of Scotland as the conduit.

That would be dangerous. If the Government ever wants to see a return on the vast investment in that bank it needs to butt out. To threaten to use its clout as a shareholder to force compliance would make the Coalition little better than the oligarchs who insist on bringing their natural resources companies to the London Stock Exchange and riding roughshod over minority investors when they get there.

An alternative would be to set up a state-run bank. It looks unpalatable, given the low level of competence the British state often demonstrates. But if it were operated at arm's length, on commercial terms, targeting the sort of financially sound, creditworthy borrowers who aren't being served by the banking sector, it might work.

It would also bring new competition, and could even make the taxpayer a few quid from a future privatisation.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Image from Montgomery County Animal Services & Adoption Center
news
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
Arts and Entertainment
Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara are seen on the set of 'Despierta America' to promote the film 'Fantastic Four'
filmMichael B Jordan and Kate Mara in latest awkward film interview
Life and Style
BMW factory
tech
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Administrator

£13000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about custom...

Recruitment Genius: Dialler Administrator

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Main purpose: Under the directi...

Ashdown Group: Contracts Manager - City of London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Contracts Manager - City...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen