Margareta Pagano: Why Osborne rushed to back ring fencing
Sunday 19 June 2011
So why did George Osborne choose his Mansion House speech to back the "ring- fencing" proposals for reforming the banks which have been recommended by the Independent Commission on Banking in its interim report?
By all accounts, it was a peculiar decision by the Chancellor to make such a public endorsement of proposals which have yet to be completed and are still being worked on. Although the ICB published its interim findings in April, the commission won't finish its consultation period until 4 July.
It was all the odder because the Chancellor has already backed the ICB's analysis in principle, so had no compelling reason to make a public statement until the final report is published on 12 September.
I can think of three possibilities which may have prompted Osborne to hijack the City's annual banquet to trumpet ring-fencing – the separation of retail deposits and investment banking divisions – as the preferred solution. First, the Chancellor is a fiercely political animal and would have liked distracting the media – something to chew on other than the economy, but at the same time show that the coalition is serious about getting banking reform right and protecting the taxpayer. Second, he may have hoped to give the City some certainty.
The third reason is altogether more cynical and in my view the most likely explanation. By putting his stamp on the ring-fencing option, the Chancellor was hoping to close the debate on banking reform; stop the ICB in its tracks even though its chairman, Sir John Vickers, told Treasury Select committee recently that ring-fencing is still only one of the options being considered. You could interpret the intervention as a not-so-subtle warning to the ICB not to go any further as anything more extreme than the current proposals will be diluted when it arrives on the Chancellor's desk in September.
Osborne may well have picked up on the fact that many politicians – particularly Lib Dems – and commentators doubt whether ring-fencing will work and would almost prefer the nuclear option of a complete split. Some of the ICB commissioners are having a rethink over whether a firewall can be tough enough, and how they can build it out of steel rather than a more permeable limestone-type material.
As always, the devil is in the detail. There are tricky questions still to answer over what would go where. For example, will small business functions stay with the retail bank as many small businesses use treasury instruments which are housed in the capital markets division. More crucially, how would intra-group loans between the retail and investment divisions be treated. Could the retail bank be allowed to lend its funds to the investment bank? At the moment, the ICB is looking at these as third-party exposures but it needs to be worked out in far more detail before ring-fencing can be seen as effective.
Just as fascinating as interpreting Osborne's stance was reading the reaction of Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, who spoke after the Chancellor. If you didn't know better, you could be forgiven for thinking that the newly enobled King had snubbed his younger colleague when he said he awaits "the final outcome" of the ICB report with interest. Remember, King, who supports the nuclear option, is in charge of banking regulation. The real battle has yet to begin.
Manufacturers are on the road and getting their careers message across
It's a delight to say that I've received the most overwhelming response to my article last weekend about how we as a society should do so much more to encourage and inspire teenagers to study more science subjects and consider engineering as a career option. As I pointed out, the UK is facing the most tragic situation in which the manufacturing industry has thousands and thousands of job vacancies at all levels and all qualifications but is unable to fill them because it can't find enough people with the right skills.
Yet, at the same time, we have hundreds of thousands of youngsters who are unemployed and unemployable. This mismatch in supply and demand has been the result of years of some appalling teaching, lousy careers advice in schools and the failure of industry to get out on the road and broadcast the many exciting opportunities available in manufacturing today. So you won't be surprised to hear that a recent survey showed that 49 per cent of seven- to 11-year-olds thought it would be "boring" to be an engineer, while only 12 per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds claim to have any knowledge of what a career in engineering would be like.
What has been great to discover from the letters is that many of our greatest engineering names are now doing just that, getting out on the road and inviting school heads and careers advisers into their factories. It's a great start. McLaren Automotive is holding an open day at its Formula 1 and road-car factory for a group of head teachers and careers advisers later this month as part of the Government backed See Inside Manufacturing campaign, which is also being held at BMW, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Johnson Matthey. A similar project is taking place at Bentley's state of the art Crewe factory – a place so pristine you could eat off the floor – for teachers and careers advisers.
It's the right place to start – if the advisers and teachers don't understand what is on offer in today's hi-tech world, how on earth can they guide and nurture their students?
From OK to profitable: Richard Desmond works magic on Five
Richard Desmond, proprietor of the Daily Express and OK! magazine, was explaining how he helped create "brand Beckham" in an interview with CNBC last week. After seeing a picture of the young Beckham and his wife, Victoria, he invited them to his Docklands office, telling them: "If we can work as a team, then we can help make you the King and Queen of Britain." David fell off his chair laughing, he recalled, while Victoria said: "How?" Splashing OK! with the Beckham wedding was his answer. Now he's sprinkled similar fairy dust over Channel 5, which he bought last year, confounding critics by announcing that profits, ads and viewing numbers are all up. What next? CSI's Gil Grissom in a tiara?
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