View from City Road: Better British care than French flair

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The Independent Online
It is hard to imagine a more horrific catalogue of banking errors than the one spelt out yesterday in all its gory detail by the French parliamentary commission examining the affairs of Credit Lyonnais. It hurts to say it, but British banks are a showcase of prudent banking and good management set against what has been coming out of France and Japan lately.

Inevitably there are still claims of corruption to be answered, but the real disaster at Credit Lyonnais was simple: its former chairman thought he was being encouraged by the government of the day to behave like a German bank, by buying large and supportive stakes in French industry.

He rushed in, spending billions of francs, but failed to develop the management systems to spend wisely or to supervise the investments once they were made. Add to that the involvement in MGM studios and the businesses of Bernard Tapie, the controversial Socialist deputy, as well as the Sasea scandal, and you have a picture of a bank that had gone out of control and whose chief shareholder, the government, had no idea of what was really being perpetrated in its name.

The Credit Lyonnais industrial strategy is one more example of the foolish belief, from which the British Labour Party often suffers, that transplanting the German financial system will solve the problems of manufacturing in other countries. Big German banks such as Deutsche think the propaganda put out on their behalf outside Germany is out of date rubbish.

The Credit Lyonnais affair should deeply embarrass the governor of the French central bank, Jean-Claude Trichet. At the time of the disasters he was director of the French treasury and the report implies he encouraged Credit Lyonnais in its foolishness. As a central banker, and a French one at that, he will no doubt shrug it off.

He might also console himself with the excesses of Japan, where the Moody credit rating service said yesterday that the disasters of the 1987-90 bubble economy would take a decade to work out. Bless those chaps down at Barclays, they are not such buffoons after all.