James Moore: Hester faces his tormentors alone as RBS top brass retreat to their bunkers

Outlook: Sir Philip Hampton has been doing a marvellous impersonation of the invisible man of British banking

So the saying goes, it is only sticks and stones that break bones. But names surely do hurt. So much so it is apparently worth £1m in shares to Stephen Hester to get the tormentors who have been calling him nasty ones to belt up.

"A personal decision," was the explanation from RBS's army of spin doctors (there are more than 40, plus agencies) for Mr Hester giving up his bonus, just before they replaced their tin hats and retired to their bunkers.

Which is where they will have found the remainder of the bank's directors who have largely remained mute while the scandal engulfed Mr Hester and he became media and political bogeyman of the week.

I've already noted the fact that RBS's chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, has been doing a marvellous impersonation of the invisible man of British banking throughout the whole saga. Perhaps he thinks that passing on his own payout (of about £1.4m) gives him the right to do so.

There has been no such altruism from the members of RBS's remuneration committee, who are responsible for setting and overseeing pay awards.

If the spin doctors and Sir Philip have been hard to find, Penny Hughes, John McFarlane, Alison Davis, and Sir Sandy Crombie have been hiding in another dimension (although perhaps we can award the latter a pass given that he voluntarily gave up £500,000 in 2004 when the company he was then running, Standard Life, was on its knees).

Poor Mr Hester. He's been left to face the wolves on his own on this one. No wonder the shares hit the skids yesterday.

Those RBS directors probably hope that this will end the matter (for now). It shouldn't.

For a start it has always seemeda bit rich that only chief executives of banks are required to give up their unconscionable bonuses. What about the other senior RBS executives? Right now the likes of the finance director, Bruce Van Saun, and investment banking chief, John Hourican, will be looking excitedly at their rapidly expanding share banks. Share banks that could yet pay out hugely when their owners finally get access to their stocks in two or three years' time, given the fact that the bank's shares are undervalued by almost any measure you'd care to look at, largely because of investors' fears about the eurozone and its impact on the banking sector.

Then there is the bank's long-term incentive plan, yet another bonus scheme in which all three men will be participating.

According to the Bank of England's Robert Jenkins, the combined annual bonus payments which Mr Hester and Sir Philip have given up (£2.4m) would be enough to back £48m of loans to small businesses. Another £10bn would be available for lending from the £500m or so that the bank plans to pay its investment bankers.

This is something to think about in an economy that is in part being strangled by a lack of credit.

Rank could get a winning hand with Gala deal

Is Rank about to hit the jackpot?

The gaming group yesterday confirmed it was in talks with Gala about adding the latter's casino business to its own.

Such a deal would give the company ownership of about 40 per cent of British casinos.

Not quite an unbeatable hand, then, but not far off, and one might think competition watchdogs would at least run the slide rule over such a transaction, if it actually gets done. Apparently not, at least at a European level.

People close to the situation say they would factor in the market share of online operators, despite the two serving quite different consumers and the fact Rank likes to market its gaming houses as "leisure destinations" rather than gambling dens.

They also point out that margins on machines and games like roulette are fixed by the gambling commission, which is all fine and dandy, but since when did a significant reduction in competition like this actually end up benefiting the consumer?

Ultimately, Rank hopes punters will in future spell casino with a "G", the brand with which is has been revitalising its Grosvenor outlets.

They might not have much choice if the company plays its cards right with Gala and the regulators turn a blind eye.

 

Ministers to blame for end of flood risk cover

Anyone who has ever had to deal with an insurance company will probably find it hard to summon up much sympathy for the industry.

However, when it comes to the issue of insuring homes at risk of flooding, the industry is getting a taste of how it feels to be a frustrated claimant.

Nowhere else in the world are such homes able to secure insurance, at least not commercially. Despite a policy of building on flood plains that one might consider almost criminally negligent by the last government, the UK is different. Cover might be expensive, but it should be available, not least through being subsidised by those who live in low-risk areas. But that won't last.

Today, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee will issue a report on the issue of flood risk that will ignite a debate that had been damped down by a deal struck in 2000 when the industry agreed to provide cover in return for more public funds allocated to flood defences.

The trouble is that deal comes to an end in 2013, and no talks are being held on its replacement, despite a warning being issued in 2008.

Ministers seem content to ignore the situation in the hope it will go away. As a result, 200,000 homes risk being left under water.

For once, their insurers won't be too blame.

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