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
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Helpdesk Analyst

£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...

Senior Helpdesk Analyst / Service Desk Co-ordinator

£27000 per annum + pension, 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ind...

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London