Barclays faces accusations of 'binge lending'

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The Independent Online

Barclays was yesterday accused of "binge lending" by shareholders who called on the high street giant to rein in its marketing of loans and credit cards to customers.

The bank, which was widely attacked after its chief executive, Matt Barrett, said he would not borrow on a Barclaycard because it was too expensive, came under heavy fire at its annual shareholder meeting in London.

Martin Simmons, a shareholder, said the bank was contributing to the dramatic rise in house prices and consumer debt in the UK. "Unless you are careful we are going to pay a horrible price," he said.

Yvonne Gibbs, another shareholder, said Barclays' policy of sending out cheques paid to customers offering loans of £15,000 or more was "irresponsible". "These cheques drop through the letterbox and you don't know if people can repay it. Are you going to stop sending them out?" Ms Gibbs asked.

Sir Peter Middleton, the chairman of Barclays, attempted to defend Barclaycard's rates, saying they reflected "the risk of lending". He added: "We couldn't succeed in the way we do if we charged excessive interest rates."

Shareholders also protested at the remuneration paid out to Barclays' board, which included an 82 per cent increase for Mr Barrett, who took home £3.08m last year. Mr Simmons said: "I am not sure whether I should congratulate you, Mr Barrett, on earning the equivalent of 20 High Court judges."

John Farmer, who also owns shares in Barclays, said the criteria the bank used to determine executive pay was inappropriate given that it had abandoned its key target of doubling shareholder return.

Sir Peter said the charge that Barclays had underperformed was "ridiculous". "I believe we have outperformed. Our chief executive's pay is very closely related to performance. There is a lot of gearing in it and we are happy to pay for good results," Sir Peter said.

The bank's management, which is generally well regarded in the City, saw 93 per cent of shareholders vote in favour of its remuneration report.

Some shareholders voiced concern over outsourcing of jobs to India. Mr Barrett said the bank was attempting to be "humanitarian" rather than "thuggish" in its transfer of jobs to Asia.

Sir Peter, 69, who was overseeing his last AGM before standing down in December, received good wishes from some of the shareholders who are regular attendees at the annual meetings. One, Mr Provost, said: "I have enjoyed crossing swords with you."

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