Margareta Pagano: G20 spin? Ignore it, the real story is in a small Swiss town

It's the FSB in Basel that has the clout on bankers' pay
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The Independent Online

Forget G20 spats over bankers' caps. Ignore talk of Gordon Brown being kicked by Nicolas Sarkozy's Cuban heels and Angela Merkel's stilettos into backing them on new controls on bankers' bonuses.

That's all good populist spin, part of the horse-trading and grand-standing you would expect ahead of the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh later this month, but it's not the real story of what's going on behind the scenes.

For that, you need to look to Basel, Switzerland, where the Financial Stability Board is based at the Bank for International Settlements – the bankers' bank. Chaired by Mario Draghi, governor of Italy's central bank, the FSB is a sort of G20 sub-committee. It goes about its work rather quietly via a small secretariat. But the FSB – once known as the Financial Stability Forum – was up-graded by the G20 at last April's summit and now has real clout.

Since the crash, a group of 15 top bankers and regulators from around the world have been working on how compensation can be better aligned to risk, and in April it came up with a set of new Principles for Sound Compensation Practices. Every politician and banker should be sent a copy as it is one of the most refreshing policy documents published on this tricky subject. But they might not like what they read as it contradicts the view expressed by many of them that the sky-high pay was a side-show to the financial crash, a symptom of booming markets rather than a main cause. Quite the contrary, say the authors, who claim "high short-term profits led to generous bonus payments to employees without adequate regard to the longer-term risks they imposed on their firms".

They go further, adding: "These perverse incentives amplified the excessive risk-taking that severely threatened the global financial system and left firms with fewer resources to absorb losses as risks materialised."

With hindsight it seems crazy, but many companies didn't even try to align compensation systems with risk management. This must change. But if the industry is to be reformed then everyone who is part of the debate – bankers, politicians and regulators – must accept that the astonishingly high rewards being paid to the bankers and traders was one of the prime drivers of the crash. It is disingenuous and dishonest to argue otherwise.

That's why the FSB's document is so sensible, because it accepts that one size does not fit all, but it does want to make sure that the bigger, systemically important firms are brought to heel. Instead of tough new rules, it has come up with thoughtful principles which should be scrutinised by national governments in time for the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, at which politicians should at least agree on agreeing some sort of international code. But this does not mean introducing French caps or German attempts to set arbitrary limits; that's just politicians blowing hot air. Bankers – not unlike terrorists – are adept at operating over and beyond the law, so another set of rules is not going to change their behaviour but send them scurrying off to some new territory.

We need to be cleverer than that, by changing the culture. That can only come from pressure from the boards of the companies involved, and their shareholders. But that's another story.

All aboard! The National Express train is about to depart for a brighter future

The sooner National Express is put out of its misery the better.

At 500p a share, the takeover offer from Spain's Cosmen family and CVC values the train-to-bus company at £765m, about where it was at the start of the year, before the East Coast bungles were uncovered. But, credit where it's due, John Devaney has done more during his four months as chairman than the former chief executive, Richard Bowker, did in three years.

Devaney should recommend the bid with some honour intact, and I'm told he's likely to do so early this week. Then National Express can get on with being a proper business again. At least the potential new owners know a thing or two about transport.

Understandably, the Cosmens, who already own 18 per cent of NatEx, want their Spanish bus operations back (they sold them to NatEx) because they are so appalled at the way they have been run, while Stagecoach will take up UK rail and bus services.

Stagecoach's boss, Brian Souter, has done well to get assurances out of the Department for Transport that it won't enforce its right to terminate NatEx's profitable East Anglian franchises in retaliation for the early surrender of the East Coast contract.

As a regular passenger from Audley End to Liverpool Street on the Cambridge line, I can't wait for him to take control. It is only 42 miles or so as the crow flies but the journey takes over an hour. The line joins one of the world's greatest academic centres with London, once one of the world's greatest financial centres, but the journey takes longer now than it did 20 years ago. Can you imagine any other developed nation allowing this?

Today, engineering works often mean passengers spend more time on a bus than a train, the loos are disgraceful, you can't get a coffee and a day return costs nearly as much as a fare from Paris to Venice. Mr Souter, you have been warned.

Bringing in the new Executive search warms up at M&S

Will she, won't she? It's the question everyone is asking of Jan Hall, the top head-hunter at JCA Group who is being tipped to help Sir Stuart Rose and the Marks & Spencer board find its next chief executive.

The search is complicated by the fact that M&S also needs a new chairman, as Sir Stuart holds both roles, although Sir David Michels, the deputy chairman, is keen to step up. Ms Hall is refusing to comment but I'm told she's the favourite to take on the task of helping assess who is best qualified for one of the country's most high-profile jobs. She's worked for M&S in the past and knows how tough it is for Middle England's favourite retailer to get it right. Utterly discreet, Ms Hall is also known as a toughie – she led the search for a new Lloyds chairman, leading to the controversial appointment of Sir Win Bischoff. If she gets the job, it won't be without a bloody fight as just about every UK search firm has been wooing Sir Stuart.

Finding a successor could be the easy part for whoever wins.