Monthly Archives: October 2014

Mark Carney says #nooneisabovethelaw now we need to work on #whocanaffordthelaw?

On 24th September 30 people travelled from all over the Country to attend the first meeting of SMEalliance in the Old Council Chamber at the Law Society. It could have been double that number but, having asked our hosts, Rustem Guardian, for a room for 12 people, then 25 people, then 30 people, I felt it would have been rather rude to continually increase the numbers!  All the same we ended up with about 35 people. Rustem Guardian did us proud and we are enormously grateful to them for giving us such a fitting venue for our first meeting.

I say fitting because one of the key phrases that came out of the meeting was this:

“no one is above the law.”

Of course most people at the meeting were brought together because, as SME owners are very well aware, some people do seem to be above the law – which is, in part, the reason why so many SMEs are struggling and continue to be abused and especially (but by no means exclusively) by the financial sector. But the reality is  – and we need to remember it – in a working democracy, no one is above the law.

I raised this subject at the meeting because of a letter Paul and I received, dated 1st September 2014,  (1 day before SMEalliance was born) on behalf of Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. We wrote to Mr Carney on 31st July 2014 and that is our first letter to him although we were in regular contact with Lord King from 2010 and he always replied, usually in person and with his private seal. Mervyn King (as he was in 2010) had asked to be kept fully informed of the progress of investigations into HBOS (ongoing) and I don’t make the point to infer we are buddies of Lord King’s,  I make it because by writing to him and getting replies, we were sure the BoE had critical information about malpractice in HBOS. So we were keen to make sure Mark Carney was similarly well informed. I can’t publish most of our letter or the reply for reasons of sub judice but I can publish this point we raised with the Governor:

Mr Carney, even as music publishers (there’s been little music publishing and lots of fraud investigation over the last 7 years), we understand the need to maintain international confidence in the City of London and our financial sector. But it would seem the attempts to indemnify bankers from crime in order to maintain that confidence, has resulted in the City becoming the ‘Wild West’ of the financial world. By not holding bankers to account individually when they break the law, we now have a situation whereby the banks feel their immunity to prosecution is a licence to further break the law. And they do so in the knowledge that, worst case scenario, their shareholders will pay huge fines while those bankers responsible for the good management and reputation of the banks, continue to get huge pay packets, bonuses and pension pots. Under such a scheme, where is the incentive for bankers to behave lawfully, morally and ethically?

The reply to this on behalf of the Governor was (I’ve redacted specific’s):

Your letter also notes a concern that regulators have not acted to penalise relevant individuals in relation to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and that bankers are somehow above the law and able to avoid prosecution. This is a view very much not shared by the Bank of England. As the Governors recent letter to Lord Blackwell made clear there is absolutely no doubt that bankers who are guilty of misconduct should face the regulatory and / or criminal consequences of their actions. No one is above the law.

I haven’t published that to annoy the Governor of the Bank of England by sharing private correspondence. On the contrary I’ve published it to make the point that in the “them v us” scenario many SME owners feel exists between businesses and the establishment,  we have a lot of shared views. And I may be very naive but I was actually delighted to read the headline in the Huff Post today:  Mark Carney Tears Into Bad Bankers For ‘Getting Away With It’

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/13/mark-carney-bankers-banking_n_5975494.html

I am not saying our letter to the Governor made an impact but, on the other hand, maybe he is aware of the bad conduct of banks towards SMEs – maybe we can get our message across to people like Mark Carney and maybe now if the time to resolve a “failure to communicate” situation that has existed for far too long. I really hope we can remedy that with SMEalliance. We can open a real dialogue with people who can help us get change – and this time, the message won’t be from people paid to represent us – it will be SMEs representing SMEs.

I feel hugely encouraged by the immediate response and support for SMEalliance – it really feels as if a fuse has been lit and an immediate network of like minded people have joined forces. We need to build and build our numbers so our voice gets louder. And then we can collectively make sure influential people like Mark Carney  or politicians know exactly how we feel, what our problems are and what changes we want to see – straight from the horses mouth. Starting maybe with the statement from the Governor’s office:

No one is above the law.

If even the Governor of the Bank of England is agreed on this principle. maybe we could start dealing with the one thing that hinders it:

But most people can’t afford the law.

That’s a huge problem but let’s not run before we can walk. If we can be sure the authorities will support  “no one is above the law” that would already go a long way to helping SMEs. So that when we report misconduct, fraud, misrepresentation, sharp practice or other issues that damage SMEs to the regulators, the police, MPs – we could do so with the confidence the law will protect us.

Last thing – you don’t have to have a problem to join SMEalliance. Aside from trying to raise important issues at a political level and have a huge voice, it is a huge opportunity to network, share information or idea’s and cross reference facts that will also alert others to potential pitfalls. And for those who do have a problem, it will also hopefully provide a support network.  I saw all of this go into action straight away when everyone at the meeting adjourned to the pub and it was evident the knowledge and experience people were willing to share was phenomenal.

Please visit our website http://www.smealliance.org and if like us you think SMEs, which are the absolute backbone of the economy, should have a better deal and a bigger voice, please join us. Our next meeting is 6th November at the Winford Manor Hotel in Bristol.

 

 

 

 

Save the Bankers v Save the Pandas – now there’s a choice!

This Sunday has not started well. Beautiful crisp morning but pretty damn cold – the beginning of the ice box scenario for many households who can’t afford heating. Nevertheless, Paul and I were up early and ready to go out to our local car boot which has, over the last few years, become like a weekly social event – regular stall holders with irregular wares and prices ranging from 20p to a couple of pounds, regular visitors chatting away with each other, lots of dogs (and their proud owners) and so multi cultural. I often think the car boot sale we go to, which is held in a farmers field in Cambridgeshire, is one of the best and most amicable examples of multi-cultural Britain.

Unfortunately today’s visit did not go to plan as our elderly car decided it does not want to live through another winter – and refused to start. Hey ho, won’t be the first time a car has died on us over the last few years, so I decided to take another pleasant option – read the papers on line, tweet a bit and listen to the Archers.

It was all going really well until I read an article on the Conservative home site called ‘Save the Bankers’ penned by an A level student. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their view and it’s always good to see young people voicing their opinions. The author even made some good points – especially the point that ‘save the bankers’ is unlikely to be as popular a campaign as ‘save the pandas.’ Yep, I’d say it’s a non starter. And he, Joe, also made the valid point that thousands of people are employed in banks – the figure of 3.8% of the population was muted although I haven’t checked that figure. Obviously it’s a big sector – obviously it employs many ordinary decent people – and even makes many of them redundant and, (I don’t know if Joe knows this) sometimes by the most ungracious of methods, like please all attend a meeting in the car park – you’re fired and don’t go back into the building.

However, the overall tone of the article was to praise the contribution banks and bankers make to society; to criticise those who insist banks are the root of all evil and; to have a pop at the Labour party for their manifesto in relation to bankers’ bonuses. With the arrogance of youth, the author insists we must rise above the ridiculous myth that banks or the City are responsible for society’s ills and we must instead take collective responsibility for economic failures.

Fair enough – not many 18 year old’s will have lost their business because of asset stripping or swaps. They probably won’t have been affected by LIBOR or even PPI at that age. They won’t know how the insolvency laws have been abused and manipulated over the years so that solvent companies are pushed into administration by banks who then acquire those assets for peanuts. So they won’t know how many SMEs have been destroyed by deliberate and immoral policy implemented to benefit an elite minority at a huge cost to the majority. And if you don’t research that side of the coin – you won’t know and you won’t include any of it in your article.

But my problem is not about the content of the article – in a world where social media means everyone can share their views across the internet, why shouldn’t Joe share his? And if he had done so on his own blog, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid (I probably wouldn’t have even seen it). What I found worrying was that the Conservative party gave this blog/article a huge platform on their home site and in doing so, they’ve used an A level student to promote the bizarre propaganda that banks are fundamentally good, we should recognise their contribution to society, embrace the ambitious nature of bankers and allow them to thrive without the constraints of “iniquitous” legislation being imposed by regulators. Bonkers!!!

There are no doubt many good bankers out there Joe. Every sector has good people – personally I always had a bit of a soft spot for Tony Soprano. Some of my good friends come from the financial sector – although most of those particular friends are now better known as ‘whistleblowers.’ Sadly, there can’t be many good main stream banks in the UK – because unlike other European countries, we only have a handful of banks and even if 50% of them were good – that could still only be a few rather than many. In my experience and after 7 years of research, I would say the majority of the big banks have repeatedly demonstrated utter contempt for society and its laws – spurred on by successive Governments.

I have no idea who to vote for next year – almost certainly it will be the party which demonstrates any inclination to support the 4.9M SMEs in the UK who employ 25M people – if such a party exists. Who knows, that could even turn out to be the Conservative party. Like many SME owners, I would just like to see a Government that redresses the balance of the many and varied issues that have caused SMEs to bat on a totally uneven playing field – and banking is only one of the those issues. All the same, while I respect everyone’s views, I feel slightly apprehensive about any political party that gets teenagers to preach on the subject of how good our financial sector is. Poor etiquette Dave. Unless of course you are also going to let someone else have the same platform to put the other side of the argument? I can think of quite a few volunteers.