David Davis: It's time to let the public hold banks to account

Wednesday 30 December 2009 01:00

Since the onset of the financial crisis, there has been much talk about how it came about and how we can change our banking system so that it doesn't happen again.

We have had any number of different commissions and reports looking into the failures that have occurred. They were all insightful and useful, but they all focused on trying to fix the broken financial machine, rather than creating a reformed banking system which is fit for purpose.

The reason that banks have the privileges they do, up to and including being underwritten by a de facto taxpayer guarantee, is that they provide a vital service, to individual members of the public, businesses, and the economy as a whole.

Many have expressed concerns about whether banks and the City of London have provided the best possible service to the wider economy and the public in general. In the recent crisis Lord Turner described some of the banks' activities as "socially useless". Although he stirred up a controversy he had a point.

These concerns are not new. The crisis in which we find ourselves is the culmination of numerous regulatory and industry failings going back many years. Some were highlighted as far back as 2000 in Don Cruickshank's report Competition in UK Banking, and yet we've still got ourselves in a mess.

Many people and organisations have had their say on the crisis and its causes. But the general public has been conspicuous by its absence from the debate. Ordinary people have been hit hardest by the recession and have been asked to bail out the crippled banks with their taxes, but they haven't been asked how they think banks can change for the better.

This commission will give them a voice in the debate about how the banking system should be reformed. That way, not only can we avoid a repeat of the financial crisis, but banks will be encouraged to operate in the wider interests of society.

We will be seeking evidence from a cross-section of interest groups including the banking industry, academics, the Bank of England, the Financial Services Authority, trades unions and other consumer groups.

The commission will be looking to answer questions concerning the social function of banking, the impact on the public of the financial crisis, how to align the interests of consumers, banks, investors and other stakeholders, and how to ensure greater competition in retail banking, among others.

It is past time that we had a proper analysis of banking from the perspective of the people they serve, the savers, borrowers and businesses that make the economy work. I hope this commission will deliver that.

David Davis is the former shadow Home Secretary

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