Commentary: British bankers never fail

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The Independent Online
THE seamless succession to Roger Barnes as head of banking supervision at the Bank of England should restore faith in one of Britain's new traditions: nobody is ever to blame when things go wrong. Not for us the messy business of falling on our swords.

If, by some coincidence, some of the people who might tangentially have had a small hand in the cock-up subsequently make a puzzling career move, it is of course entirely unrelated to the events in question.

So should ill-informed outsiders construe Mr Barnes' early retirement as related to criticisms in Lord Justice Bingham's report on BCCI last October? Treasury officials - surprise, surprise - are in harmony with the Bank of England in regarding any slur on Mr Barnes (or any other individuals) as unfair. The extent of the personal criticism in the report can be exaggerated. Mr Barnes was the last in a line of people responsible for supervising BCCI over many years. Nor does the report castigate individuals so much as build up a picture of institutional failings. We are all to blame, and therefore no one is to blame.

Mr Barnes happened to be in charge of supervision when the music stopped and BCCI was closed (though he was on holiday at the time, and the Bank did not feel it necessary to recall him). But retribution? Surely it was equally absurd a few years ago to see the fizzling out of the Bank career of Peter Cooke, the then associate director in charge of supervision, as in any way related to the collapse of Johnson Matthey Bankers in 1984. British central bankers never fail. They retire to Bognor or to Basle.

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