Bankers' showdown postponed because of the weather

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The Independent Online

Plans for a showdown meeting today between ministers and banking chiefs have been postponed because of travel disruption caused by heavy snowfall.

Chancellor George Osborne's return to Britain from New York was delayed by the weather, and other expected participants in the meeting were facing difficulties getting in, said the Treasury. Mr Osborne's plane has set off from the US and he is expected to arrive back later today.

The banks had been expected to come under pressure from the Chancellor and Business Secretary Vince Cable to curb excessive bonuses at today's meeting, which is now likely to take place later in the week.

Mr Cable renewed the threat yesterday of imposing taxes to tackle "scandalous" annual payouts as he insisted both coalition parties were united in seeking tough action.

He also expressed his determination to use the latest meeting to press for more openness on lavish pay and perks and for increased lending to small businesses.

Senior ministers have launched a series of starkly-worded warnings of the need for restraint in the face of the squeeze elsewhere in the economy as the bonus season approaches.

But there remain doubts about whether the Conservatives are as committed as their Liberal Democrat governing partners to imposing extra practical measures at this stage.

Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday that banks had to understand the "political context" of bonuses, given that they were bailed out by taxpayers who are now feeling the pinch.

He spoke after his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg said the Government would not "stand idly by" while the banks appeared to get away "scot free" with the fallout from the financial crisis.

The rhetoric on the banks has provoked a hostile reaction from the City and some scepticism as to what action the Government could take unilaterally to curb excess.

Asked what practical steps could be taken, Mr Cable said there were "various ways" of taxing banks if they failed to act on bonuses, but declined to give any detail of what form it could take.

"If they don't behave, if they don't take account of their wider responsibilities, the Government has as a possibility some form of taxation - there are various ways of doing this - but we'd rather they accepted that they had wider obligations to British business and to the public," he told the BBC.

And he told the Sunday Times: "The banks shouldn't underestimate our determination to act. They are deluding themselves, really seriously deluding themselves, if they believe the Government is not going to take this seriously.

"We're not going to be bullied. I meet all kinds of companies who say 'Give us something or we'll go somewhere else', but you can't just give in the whole time."