Two-thirds of people working in the City cannot say when the last two recessions took place according to a report from a think-tank linked to St Paul’s cathedral that was temporarily shelved following the furore over the Occupy London Stock Exchange protests.
St Paul’s Institute, a church group that seeks to engage the banks with moral questions, published its highly damning critique of the financial industry today after initially deciding to put it on hold following the arrival of a protest camp on the steps of the cathedral.
The report, based on a confidential poll with 515 City workers, paints a damning portrait of the Square Mile with a majority of employees admitting that they are over paid, that a vast gap exists between rich and poor and that bonuses should be awarded on the basis of long term stability, not short-term windfalls.
In an indication that memories fade fast within the banking sector, less than a third of employees were able to pin point 1980 and 1991/92 as the last two dates major recessions took place in the UK. In contrast, more than three-quarters of respondents correctly answered that the post-credit crunch recession began in 2008.
Equally, almost seven in 10 people had no idea that this year is the 25th anniversary of the “Big Bang”, the major deregulation of Britain’s banking industry that allowed London to become the financial capital of the world – and an inevitable epicentre of the ongoing economic turmoil.
The results will lead to concerns that a lack of historical awareness permeates a financial sector that rarely looks beyond the short-term acquisition of more capital at the expense of long term stability.
The report also revealed that 66 percent of respondents believed City traders are paid too much. FTSE 100 chief executives, stockbrokers, lawyers and bankers were also considered overpaid, whilst teachers and nurses were thought to be underpaid. Just over half of respondents (51 per cent) said deregulation leads to less ethical behaviour.
In a forward to the report, Canon Giles Fraser, who stepped down in protest over the hard line St Paul’s initially took towards anti-greed protestors, described how he had been hired by the cathedral to reach out to the City.
“It soon became clear that many in the financial services industry could not see the advantage of public debate on questions of ethics,” he wrote. “They had been widely painted as villains, and public debate on questions of ethics would simply provide the media with further material for banker bashing.”
But he also criticised his own church for failing to tackle the moral issues surrounding wealth acquisition at the expense of other topics that he said had dominated Anglican debate.
“Despite the fact that, if you count up all the references, the right use of money is the number one moral issue in the Bible, the church has preferred to spend its time arguing endlessly about sex,” he wrote.
St Paul’s has been at the epicentre of a row over the Church of England’s approach towards growing anger over whether the financial industry is to blame for the current economic difficulties the country faces.
Protestors who pitched their tents on the steps of the cathedral when they were moved on from the London Stock Exchange accused St Paul’s of siding with the banks when it announced it would use the courts to evict them. After widespread condemnation from within the Church, St Paul’s backed off but not before three clergymen had resigned over the furore.
Whether the St Paul’s institute report will be listened to within the City remains a moot point. According to those polled only 41% of financial workers said they believed in a God compared to a figure of roughly two thirds for the national average. Meanwhile 76% of respondents said they need not listen to the Church for moral guidance on how they conduct their work.
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