My Week: John McFall
The chair of the Treasury Select Committee looks back at a week of apologies from the major players in the banking world
Saturday 14 February 2009
I'm up and out for a 7.30am breakfast meeting with business people. It is really a preparation day for me today and I have to get a lot done for tomorrow when several bank bosses will give evidence to a Treasury Select Committee hearing, which I am chairing.
I'm up early to do a round of television and radio interviews. As the hearing gets under way, I realise that, as I suspected, the bankers are well briefed by PR people and fall over themselves apologising. But I feel that there is not a lot of personal responsibility being taken. We get substantial evidence on the record of excessive risk-taking by both Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS. In RBS's case, the acquisition of ABN Amro and in HBOS's case the over-lending in the regional market. What surprises me so much is RBS's recklessness, and that top-notch financiers, politicians and diplomats all waved through the ABN Amro deal, which eventually brought RBS to its knees. I think there's a uniform view across the committee that these corporate governments in these companies were lacking the financial knowledge to deal with the complexities of their business.
I'm up at 5.30am for various radio meetings. Representatives from Essex County Council come to see me, as I'd written an article on developing a state bank to help local businesses, a concept that they were attracted to. I go to Prime Minister's Questions, where the work of the Treasury committee is brought up again. Afterwards, John Prescott contacts me with a petition of 25,000 signatures against bank bonuses, so we hold a press conference. At the hearing I tell the bankers about the petition. They accept that trust in banking has gone and they have a long hard slog to restore that trust. The committee impresses on them the need to come into the real world regarding bonuses: people don't understand why they need such a fantastic incentive. I go out for a meal with some MP friends and we have a good gossipy night.
Today we mainly discuss how the Prime Minister can communicate that the package he's put in place for the banks is worthwhile. In Japan, bailing the banks out was met with huge public anger, which has been replicated in this country and the enormous task now is to sway people's concerns about this. The lesson we learnt from Japan is to act quickly and act big. You have to keep the public with you. I fly back to Scotland in the afternoon and then go to Glasgow University to give a lecture to the business school about how we get through the credit crisis.
It's very much back to the day job today. I meet constituents in the morning, but still find myself talking business for most of the day. In the evening I take off for a short break with my wife, whom I've been neglecting all week.
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