David Prosser: The tortuous path to transparency in the case of Royal Bank of Scotland


Outlook The curious affair of the Financial Services Authority's report into Royal Bank of Scotland continues. The good news – at least for those of us who believe in accountability and transparency – is that an abridgedversion of the report at least will eventually be published. That did not look likely back in December when the FSA announced its inquiries into the near-collapse of the bank had concluded and that no action would be taken against any of the individuals involved. The regulator initially refused to make its workings public.

What is strange, however, is that having quickly and sensibly accepted this position was nottenable, the FSA is taking so long to bring out its RBS report. Yesterday, it welcomed the appointment by the Treasury Select Committee of two City grandees, whose job it will be to examine the report, which is apparently complete, and judge whether it is a fair reflection of the FSA's investigation.

In other words, the regulator's stock with the public is now so low that it accepts we need independent scrutineers to certify it has prepared a report that accurately summarises what its investigation into RBS uncovered (both about the bank and the FSA itself). Are we really saying that we do not trust senior regulators to tell us the truth about what they did?

Publication of the report also appears to have been delayed by concern at RBS that the detail might leave it – and former executives – open to legal action. To which the only possible response is tough luck. If the FSA's inquiries have uncovered behaviour by the bank or its staff, past or present, that might be actionable, the regulator shouldn't be keeping quiet about it. And if the potentialdefendants in any legal case had wanted to avoid such trouble, they should have been more careful about the actions they took in the years before the financial crisis.

Back in December, the regulator insisted it did not have the grounds for recommending charges against anyone at RBS, or even for seeking the sort of deal from Sir Fred Goodwin, its former chief executive, that it had previously agreed with Johnny Cameron, the bank's investment banking chief, who has accepted he will never again take a full-time role at a financial services company.

If the FSA reached that view in good faith – and there is no reason to think otherwise – then so be it. Justice will not be served by throwing Sir Fred and his former cronies to a baying mob. Still, it would be reassuring to see theregulator have the courage of its convictions. And until the FSA's report is finally published, it will not be able to claim that.

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