The HSBC chairman might like to sound off but at least he hasn’t left

My Week

Douglas Flint began the week in grumpy fashion.

The HSBC chairman is one of few senior bankers willing to sound off about the challenges faced by his industry in trying to cope with a blanket of new regulation, and he made a good point that spending millions readying assets to be ring-fenced from risky trading is a waste of time and money if a competition inquiry into current accounts and small-business lending prompts some of those activities to be sold. But it is hard to win support for less regulation when the financial crisis is still being paid for with hefty fines and customer redress.

Of course caution should stalk the corridors of HSBC’s Canary Wharf tower. Bankers have to get used to the new world.  Unfortunately, the manner in which HSBC is picking and choosing its customers – witness the revelations in The Independent that Syrian refugees and students are having their bank accounts closed – is as bad for its image as the money laundering it was found to be involved in.

But the bank chairman who is the most outspoken is almost the most durable. Mr Flint appears to be staying put, while three of the five main lenders are on the hunt for new chairmen. A fourth, Lloyds, is just bedding down Lord Blackwell, Margaret Thatcher’s former adviser, who was already on the board when he took over in April.

Consider that Royal Bank of Scotland’s Sir Philip Hampton is joining GlaxoSmithKline soon and Sir David Walker at Barclays and Lord Burns at Santander UK are heading towards the exit, and you can see the headache for headhunters. Once the pinnacle of a business career, the political pressure, public opprobrium and regulatory risk mean they are no longer queuing around the block to chair a British bank.

How will this vacuum be filled? The same as always. There is always someone enticed by a mix of a sense of duty and the prospect of high corporate office. It will just need a little more arm-twisting in a thinner field. Maybe the newcomers could follow Mr Flint and let off steam in public. Then again, investors might prefer it if they didn’t.

Put Boris in a hot seat before giving him the keys to No 10

 There has been much talk about Boris Johnson, MP, and Boris Johnson, prime minister. But what was striking about the confirmation of the worst-kept secret in Westminster was that halfway between those two roles might come Boris Johnson, business secretary.

Anyone who has heard the London Mayor’s after-dinner speaking is likely to be familiar with his routine about exports from the capital. Mr Johnson reels off sales successes such as the perfume shipped to France and the tea sent to China. The punchline, that we sold Piers Morgan to America, doesn’t work so well any more.

Now that he has confirmed he is hunting a parliamentary seat, his supporters are campaigning hard for a senior Cabinet post for him beyond 2015. Assuming a Conservative victory, he would be well placed to move into Downing Street should David Cameron exit mid-term. Partly because he has banged the exports drum, the business role is seen as perfect.

But would it be a perfect appointment for Britain’s business leaders? One charge levelled at politicians is that they don’t understand what business needs; they don’t take it seriously enough. How ironic if the clown prince of politics is the man to do that.

There have been a few comedic turns as business secretary, but not intentionally. Stephen Byers, who was in the hot seat when MG Rover was sold to the Phoenix Four and Railtrack was nationalised, is particularly memorable for the wrong reasons. The business department has also suffered from too much change, with Labour’s Alan Johnson, Alistair Darling and John Hutton running it for little more than a year each in quick succession.

For all his failings, one of Vince Cable’s successes has been his longevity. It has given him leeway to plug away at long-term projects such as developing Britain’s industrial strategy. That’s good, but I would say the Coalition’s two most business-friendly measures – reducing the headline rate of corporation tax and the patent-box incentive for research and development – grew out of the Treasury.

Mr Johnson might well be forgiven for being another short-term business secretary. But if he is as good as his fans say he is, why not hand the prime minister in waiting a really tough brief, such as energy?

The unsexy companies we should learn to value more

 It’s always fun to follow a takeover battle for one of the stock market’s unheralded constituents. There was a spate of these fights a few years ago, when unsexy Chloride, a maker of power protection systems, was fought over by Swiss engineer ABB and America’s Emerson, and the industrial fans firm Charter became the subject of the affections of both Colfax of America and Melrose, the British turnaround firm.

Now it is the turn of Hyder Consulting, an engineering consultant with a good presence in the Middle East and Asia Pacific. Suddenly it has Dutch and Japanese suitors banging at the door. It might be that when these corporate tiddlers become part of something far bigger, the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. Or it could be that British investors are poor at properly valuing companies that harbour great skill and know-how.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss