City: Out of credit

BANKS have always been unpopular; recession has turned them into some of the most hated institutions in the land. Who's to blame? In large part, according to Sir Jeremy Morse, chairman of Lloyds, it is the Government and the press. Last week, he accused them of encouraging the 'biggest wave of anti-bank sentiment in Britain since the 1930s'.

To a degree he is right. Politicians are brazen about it; any opportunity to deflect blame for the recession from themselves on to someone else is grabbed shamelessly. Bankers make easy scapegoats. For the press too, banks are obvious targets when the going gets tough. But come on, Sir Jeremy. Are not bankers just a teeny weeny, little bit culpable? Did they not bring most of this on themselves?

The first wave of bank-bashing came when the press started publicising the complaints of small business customers. Bankers appeared to be overcharging and in some cases foreclosing unnecessarily. That in turn unleashed a wave of pent-up anger from ordinary current account holders, milked to pay for a catalogue of lending disasters. Forget Maxwell, Brent Walker and the thousands of other lesser cases of reckless lending laid bare by recession; last week alone there were two rather more immediate examples.

Barclays was forced publicly to announce the provision of pounds 240m against a pounds 422m exposure to Imry, a property company whose best known achievement was concreting over the remains of Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in Southwark, south London. The site is now occupied by a vacant office block (since sold) that nobody wants to use, with the original theatre buried somewhere in the basement. Much of the lending to Imry took place at the very moment the commercial property market went into a nosedive; it appears to be a classic case of banking misjudgement and mismanagement. How could Barclays have allowed itself to become so exposed to a single borrower? According to Barclays, the Imry loans were vetted in the normal way, and went through all the usual procedures. If this was normality, you have to ask yourself what that means for the rest of the bank's pounds 8bn property portfolio. And Andrew Buxton, who was in a key management position when the Imry loans were made, still wonders why institutional shareholders are so fiercely opposed to him combining the role of chairman and chief executive? If he had nothing to do with the Imry decision, as Barclays says, why on earth not? Is it the habit of senior managers at Barclays not to get involved in major lending decisions? Either way, Mr Buxton has a lot of explaining to do.

The other example is the Gateway supermarkets chain, now into its third or fourth refinancing (sorry, one loses count). Three years ago, Gateway was the subject of a highly leveraged pounds 2.1bn buyout, most of it financed by the banks. Since then just about everything that could go wrong has done. The original management has long since departed, collecting pay-offs along the way that by any standards looked obscene ( pounds 1m in the case of David Smith, the man who persuaded the banks to back this grand folly), and the company itself staggers from one debt-induced crisis to the next. In the course of it all, the banks have lost a packet.

One way or another, it is you and me who end up paying for this ballooning money-go-round. We have every justification in feeling aggrieved. If there is one thing that can be said with certainty about the present round of bank-bashing, it is that without it the situation would be a good sight worse. At least it has knocked some complacency out of the British banking system.

Yet in his speech last week, Sir Jeremy suggested that there was something dangerous in such sustained criticism. A successful modern economy was dependent on a sound banking system, he said, and he warned of the consequences of renewed attack. 'In the case of most business products, the more you can sell the better. But this is emphatically not true of bank loans.'

Quite so. It's only a shame Barclays and others that pursued growth for the sake of it in the late 1980s were not more alive to such principles when they might have done some good.

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
tv

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
John Moore inspired this Coca Cola Christmas advert
people

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Jamie Oliver’s version of Jollof rice led thousands of people to post angry comments on his website
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film

Review: Mike Leigh's biopic is a rambling, rich character study

Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
film
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Secondary Teacher Great Yarmouth

£115 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are currently work...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

Special Needs Learning Support Assistant

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

PMLD Teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leiceste...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes