The Treasury Select Committee has cast another very unfavourable light on the performance of Britain's financial regulator and not without good reason. There have been years of this sort of thing: institution fails, scandal erupts, mea culpa follows from the Financial Services Authority promising that lessons will be learned. Only for complacency to return when the dust has settled. In giving it a kicking, and I'm not saying it isn't deserved, the committee is tapping into a rich seam of public fury. It really isn't good enough that in having wreaked such damage on the futures of so many, nobody from Royal Bank of Scotland has faced any penalty.
If you smash a window and the CCTV catches you, you'll get fined. Do it enough and you'll go to jail. Throw bricks at the financial system and you're sent on your way with a nice pension.
But let's step back a moment. We're only at this point because the FSA did, albeit with some prodding, publish its mea culpa. We know that it failed because it told us. The committee has highlighted some of its many sins. But the FSA was only part of the bizarre love triangle that made up financial regulation in Britain during the financial crisis. It was the most directly responsible for RBS, but it wasn't alone.
Where was the Bank of England in all this? As the MPs' report notes, its Court is, belatedly, overseeing work on its conduct. It is true that at the time it wasn't the banking supervisor. It didn't enjoy the political favour it enjoys now. But it did, still does, have a role in overseeing financial stability.
A deal like the suicide pact entered into by RBS with ABN Amro, two systemically important institutions, was very relevant to that function. If the Bank was nervous, however, it didn't raise objections very loudly. How about the Treasury? An assessment of its performance is difficult because a new Government is in power. But should an attempt not be made?
Having the FSA in place as a whipping boy is becoming a mite too convenient. There were other actors present when the roof fell in. We need to hear from them.Reuse content