Occupy protesters talk reform with banking boss

FSA chief Hector Sants holds hour-long meeting to hear views on changes to City regulation

Kevin Rawlinson
Thursday 08 December 2011 01:00
The Occupy London camp outside St Paul's Cathedral
The Occupy London camp outside St Paul's Cathedral

Demonstrators who have camped outside St Paul's Cathedral since October met the head of the Financial Services Authority last night to discuss proposed changes to the way the banking system is regulated.

Their private meeting with Hector Sants provided an opportunity for the protesters, who are angry at inequalities between the financial sector and poorer sections of society, to put their ideas to one of the most powerful men in the industry.

According to one of the 10 demonstrators present at the hour-long discussion, Mr Sants admitted that the FSA has "had a light touch with regulation in the past and that should change".

Emma Fordham said: "There were areas where we agreed, but it was clear that we want to go further with a lot of things than the FSA does. We agreed that having banks that are 'too big to fail' which are then bailed out by normal people is wrong and Mr Sants said he wanted to avoid that in future."

The meeting is the first between high-ranking representatives of the financial industry and members of the Occupy London movement and represents a coup for the protesters, who face eviction from two of the three sites they have set up in the City.

"This is a significant step for us. It shows that, if you feel strongly about something and take action over it, even a normal person like me can sit down with someone who actually has some influence and have an open discussion. We are not coming away from the meeting and thinking 'Woo-hoo', but it is a step forward," said Ms Fordham.

The discussions, organised by the St Paul's Institute, were said to be respectful, with Mr Sants fielding questions on what regulatory changes the FSA is planning and when they might be introduced. The demonstrators called for a "future system that is democratic, just, open, accountable and transparent" and discussed the need for regulators to be "genuinely independent of the industries they regulate". Ken Costa, a former vice chairman of the bank UBS, and the Bishop of London Richard Chartres were also present. The FSA said the meeting recognised "the importance of the financial services industry engaging more with the general public".

A spokesman said: "The meeting will be the first in a programme of events organised by the Church, called London Connect, designed to open up a dialogue between the City and public."

Ahead of the discussions, James Hargreaves, an Occupy London supporter, said: "It is great that Hector Sants has shown willingness to engage with Occupy London, as well as Ken Costa and the Bishop of London, at this precarious time for the financial system.

"Since decisions taken by the FSA on regulatory change affect the global financial markets, it is essential to get real feedback and suggestions from the public."

Campaigners have been camped in the courtyard of St Paul's since 15 October. The group also occupies Finsbury Square in the City, as well as an abandoned UBS-owned office block in Hackney, which it has dubbed the "Bank of Ideas".

Camp offers visitors a crisis tour of London

London is already known for its open top buses, Thames riverboat cruises and Jack the Ripper walks – but there's now a new tour guide in town. How about an enlightening – if somewhat partisan – tour of the capital's financial district by Occupy London?

The protesters' first sightseeing tour this week took in the former London headquarters of Lehman Brothers, which collapsed in 2008, as well as those of credit rating agency Moody's and the banks CitiGroup and Barclays. KPMG's Canary Wharf HQ was also on the itinerary, as were those of HSBC and Bank of America, all of whom the group blame for causing the financial crisis.

Liam Taylor, the tour guide, told guests: "You are now standing in Tower Hamlets, the local authority with the second highest rate of severe child poverty in the country, and highest level of youth unemployment in London."

Further tours are planned for the New Year, taking in some of Mayfair's hedge funds. The group also plans concerts outside St Paul's after the success of an impromptu gig by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, Massive Attack's 3D and UNKLE's Tim Goldworthy on Tuesday night.

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