Category Archives: Conservative

Christmas 2014 round up of financial crimes with no one going to jail.

My husband made a very valid point a few days ago and I have been thinking about it every day since. He pointed out that when we (Paul and I) started looking at misconduct in the financial industry and specifically HBOS, we couldn’t get anyone to take our allegations seriously because no one believed us. That was in 2007 and it took until late 2009 to actually get the FSA involved and 2010 before the police got involved – even although we made allegations to the police in November 2007. We’re not a lot further forward now in December 2014 because the criminal trials for that alleged crime won’t start until September 2015 – and even then, I’m not holding my breath.

It was disappointing no one believed us in 2007 but not surprising because the idea banks, or rather bankers, might be crooks, was out of the question back then. Bankers were seen as respectable professionals and your bank manager was so trustworthy, he or she could even sign your passport. The same doesn’t apply now and no one bats an eyelid at the concept of crooked bankers – in fact bad conduct is what we expect from them, to the point even the good guys (yes I do acknowledge there are still many good bankers our there) are tarred with the same brush.

Paul’s point was simple: It was tough back in 2007 because no one believed us, so nothing was done. Now, everyone knows the financial sector is rife with fraud and corruption and still nothing has been done! Not just in the case we reported – right across the board and in thousands of cases. Even more alarming is the fact that, in many instances I know of, where people have tried to report financial crime, the police will not investigate it! In all probability this is because they don’t have the budgets to investigate such a glut of criminality in austerity Britain – but that is of no help to the victims who are frequently told – “it’s a civil matter.” No it’s not – crime is never a ‘civil matter’ and even victims of PPI have a right to report it as a crime, get a crime number and, if applicable, also have it investigated. Of course that might damage crime statistics.

But no. Most financial crime is just swept under the carpet as “mis-selling” or “restructuring” and resolved by bank shareholders’ paying huge fines to the FCA. Think about that for a moment – we all believe bankers have committed criminal acts but nothing has happened. It just beggars belief and is really as scary as hell because, what it actually means is, we can no longer rely on the Law and really do have a two tier criminal justice system. There isn’t another, plausible explanation.

This terrifying thought was brought home again when I read the latest excellent Matt Taibbi article in Rolling Stone magazine: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-police-in-america-are-becoming-illegitimate-20141205 where he is talking about the disparities in the US legal system and it reminded me that I still haven’t had a reply to my letter to Mr Cameron of December 2012 when I asked for some clarification about the apparent immunity bankers have from prosecution. In that letter, which I wrote after reading some worrying comments from Andrew Bailey (now head of the PRA), I said:

Mr Cameron, unless I am completely mistaken, Mr Bailey seems to be telling us that banks, and therefore bankers, are now officially considered to be above the law in this country and that, in the interests of confidence in the banking industry (which is already at rock bottom among the British public, and therefore can hardly sink any lower), they cannot be prosecuted.

I am writing to ask you, as Prime Minister, for some clarification.

Does your government endorse the notion that banks and bankers should be given a licence to commit criminal acts without any fear of prosecution? Is this now official government policy? Are the British public now being asked to accept that, despite incontrovertible evidence of multiple criminal acts by banks, including money-laundering, drug-money-laundering, Libor rigging, multiple frauds and assorted Ponzi schemes, bankers are considered to be immune from prosecution? And if so, can I ask on what grounds your government, or indeed the government of any democratic country, can justify such a policy?” Full letter here: http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

I didn’t write the letter to be confrontational – although I must admit I am incredibly disappointed the PM’s strong words in the run up to the last election about what should happen to criminal bankers, turned out to be hot air and no more. This is what he said to Jeff Randall in January 2009:

“I think that we need to look at the behaviour of banks and bankers and, where people have behaved inappropriately, that needs to be identified and if anyone has behaved criminally, in my view, there is a role for the criminal law and I don’t understand why is this country the regulatory authorities seem to be doing so little to investigate it, whereas in America they’re doing quite a lot.”

I wrote the letter because I genuinely wanted some reassurance from the Prime Minister that bankers are not above the law; we don’t have a two tier legal system and; something would be done to redress this inequitable situation.

So what has happened to clarify or allay my concerns since December 2012? Well a few things have happened but not what I was expecting. For example:

  1. I’ve never had a reply.

  2. Several banks have been found guilty of money laundering and even money laundering for drug cartels. And the only penalty has been a huge tax on the bank’s shareholders who have paid massive fines for the conduct of bankers. But no one has gone to jail.

*given that banks (buildings or legal entities) don’t have any physical ability to pick up the phone and negotiate with drug cartels – such deals had to be done by bankers. So why have no bankers been held responsible?

  1. Many banks have been found guilty of making billions of pounds with the PPI scam. They’ve had to pay the money back in many cases but, I assure you, not all cases. So again, the shareholders have lost a fortune. But no one has gone to jail.

* I often wonder who invented PPI? Did senior bankers sit down and plan how best to get thousands of their customers to take out insurance policies which cost them a fortune but could never be used? Or did someone in a bank find a recipe for creating and implementing PPI in a fortune cookie?

  1. As a founder member of SME Alliance, I talk every day to people whose businesses have been totally destroyed with various, ridiculously (and I would suggest deliberately) complicated financial products under the collective name of swaps. I’m not a victim of a swap and I know little about them (I’m learning fast) but even their titles smack of more contempt for businesses e.g. vanilla swaps. Can you have chocolate or strawberry? Probably. The FCA have said many of these products should never have been sold to ‘unsophisticated’ clients and in some cases banks have had to give the money back. However, the years it has taken for this to happen and the devastation these products have caused, apparently do not necessitate banks having to pay out billions in compensation. The redress scheme the FCA has come up with has conveniently been limited to peanuts – and no one has gone to jail.

* A journalist was telling me the other day of a case where someone challenged the FCA decision multiple times and was eventually awarded £500k – but of course the bank interest and charges on his account over the time it took to challenge the bank’s conduct meant the victim got nothing and the bank paid themselves £500k. You couldn’t make it up.

  1. The now infamous business recovery units like RBS/GRG have been merrily acquiring, appropriating, stealing their clients’ assets left right and centre and sadly RBS have not been working in isolation. It has caused outrage – it’s been all over the news, MPs have held debates on the subject, Committees have interviewed senior bankers and regulators and even the ever cautious BBC have suggested some bankers are crooks. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04t6jy1 But no one has gone to jail.

* As a victim of HBOS Reading (similar model) I have so much to say on this – but am having to keep quiet for now but not forever.

  1. And while the likes of GRG and HBOS Reading have caused many businesses to fail, a separate scandal has specifically targeted farms across the Country for over 20 years. Repeated allegations have been made against a man called Des Phillips and various of the 59 companies he has been or is a director of including UK Farm Finance, UKCC and UK Acorn Finance. And some of our major banks have been heavily implicated in these allegations as have other ‘professionals’. It’s a sickening story which has resulted in many family farms being repossessed and, sadly, farmers committing suicide. You can hear about it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b040hzz5 or read about here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm141111/halltext/141111h0001.htm No one has been prosecuted so no one has gone to jail.

  2. Bankers or traders have been found guilty of rigging LIBOR. Again, massive fines have been levied – another penalty on shareholders. However, in this instance it looks possible some bankers will go to jail and one banker has even pleaded guilty. But let’s not get too excited that justice might be done. Read this: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/oct/07/banker-pleads-guilty-libor-rigging-rate-fixing

As you can see the banker concerned could get up to 10 years in jail but we don’t know who he is or what bank he worked for and reporting on this case is heavily restricted. Presumably, after the other three people charged have had their trials, we might know more. But I wouldn’t bet money on it – especially if the banker in question worked for one of the State subsidised banks. But it’s a start.

I could make the list much longer but, to date and looking at the 6 instances above, money laundering, PPI, Swaps, asset theft including farms and LIBOR rigging, it’s certain 1 person in the UK will go to jail and 4 people might. And when you look at the trail of poverty, misery, desperation and devastation these crimes have caused, it is unbelievably disappointing – not to mention scandalous, that our regulators, justice system and worse still, our Government, have let this happen. In fact it is morally and ethically reprehensible.

Of course individual bankers do go to jail quite regularly – they’re usually quite low down in the pecking order and their offences (with a few noticeable exceptions) just about make it into their local newspapers. But the top dogs – the ones who make policy – the ones who instigate and oversee the kind of conduct which allowed all of the above to happen, seem to remain above the law. Which begs the question – why do we have laws?

Meanwhile, the Government have issued the following figures regarding crimes to businesses:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/284818/crime-against-businesses-headlines-2013-pdf.pdf

I haven’t read it in any great detail but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mention the wholesale destruction of SMEs by banks. I sometimes think we should move the Houses of Parliament to Canary Wharf and have done with it before La La Land spreads across the whole of London.

Here in the real world we are in the run up to what will be another very austere festive season for many people in Britain – and I’m not just talking about people or SMEs who have been defrauded by banks. I’m talking about those families who’ve lost jobs and/or benefits and most of all, those people relying on food banks or who have lost their homes and now live on the street. A lot of people would say – me included – our major banks and therefore our most senior bankers, were very instrumental in causing our national austerity. And, post the so called Credit Crunch, those same banks (especially the part State owned ones) have done little to help the economy and much to damage it further. Unbelievably, the people at the top of those banks continue to be heavily rewarded.

For example, yesterday (13th December) I was reading an article about the top paid European Bank CEO’s. http://www.cityam.com/1415705309/which-ceos-european-bank-have-biggest-pay-checks-two-uk-banks-take-second-and-third-place

Hmmm – £7.4M. Even when you deduct 50% tax, that still leaves approximately £71k a week. I think you could have one hell of a Christmas with that remuneration package!

Mind you, every silver lining has its own cloud and I suddenly thought – I bet it’s really tough finding the perfect Christmas gift for these top bankers because, what do you buy for the man or woman who has everything? So maybe La La Land has its own problems at Christmas.

Shame you can’t gift wrap integrity – if we could give some of them that, the whole Country might feel more festive. Still, there’s always the good old standby gift – Monopoly. After all, banks have bought, sold, packaged and mortgaged every property on the board many, many times over – but, to date, they have been very adept at steering clear of the “Go to Jail” square. But then I’m guessing Al Capone thought he would never lose ‘games’ either.

Did the Bank Wreck My Business? Yes – so what happens now?

Did the Bank Wreck My Business? Yes – so what happens now?

I’m pretty sure the ratings for the excellent Panorama programme, ‘Did The Bank Wreck My Business’, were very high last Monday. Certainly most people I know watched it – but then many of them have direct experience of banking abuse at the hands of RBS or Lloyds – so they would. In fact most of them were interviewed by Andy Verity and Jon Coffey although their stories weren’t used in the programme. Some would say (and I would agree) there are many more horrific stories out there that the production team could have used – but it’s not a competition. Every business annihilated by bank misconduct (known to many as fraud), is a tragedy. And, given the Beeb’s generally conservative, establishment stance, I think it’s nothing short of a miracle this programme was as frank and exposing as it was.

As always, when programmes like this are on, I took some notes. I do it mostly to collect quotes for my book (nothing quite like “from the horses mouth”quotes to make points) but I also do it because I’m so staggered at what some people in the banking world say, it has to be captured in black and white for posterity. One day future generations will surely look back and ask “how the hell (being polite there) did a democratic country let that happen?”

I know the transcript of the programme will be available soon (or I hope it will) but here’s some of my favourite quotes from last night:

Jon Pain (RBS) “The whole purpose of GRG is to help customers return to financial health…..”

Vince Cable (BIS) “Well of course I’m very alarmed because good companies appear to have been put at risk or in some cases destroyed by banks behaviour…..”

Stephen Pegge (Lloyds) “our goal is to support businesses (you know) small and medium sized businesses are really important to us….”

Jon Pain (RBS) “(But) I would in no shape or form condone any inappropriate behaviour by anybody acting on behalf of RBS – that’s not part of our agenda in supporting customers.”

Christ Sullivan (RBS) to Andrew Tyrie re GRG “It is absolutely not a profit centre!”

Ross Finch (Lloyds victims) re his meeting with an exec of Cerberus who Lloyds sold his loan to “When I expressed disbelief about their behaviour, um, he said, “what you’ve got to understand is I am a prick” – which I couldn’t believe he would say such a thing!”

I’ve just pulled out those quotes because they are either so absurd or so shocking– and they’ve been broadcast on the BBC, the bastion of British correctness. If even the Beeb is exposing RBS and Lloyds as a bunch of crooks, what can we say? Nine years on from the so called Credit Crunch and where are we? I would say, if anything, we’re walking backwards. As one of the founder members of SME Alliance and a member of Whistleblowers UK ( Paul and I blew the whistle on HBOS Reading – the HBOS equivalent of GRG), I hear horror stories about banks v SMEs every single day. But the exposure of banking atrocities is no longer limited to what banks like to portray as ‘the niche market of poorly performing SMEs’. Everyone knows how bad some of our banks are and Andy Verity’s programme should be one of the final nails in the coffin of bad banking.

But will it be? Big question:

Vince Cable, Andrew Tyrie, the Treasury Select Committee, the FCA, the PRA, Mark Carney, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg – did you watch “Did The Bank Wreck My Business’? And if you did – what are you going to do about it? They certainly didn’t wreck your businesses so I understand that maybe you don’t understand the consequences of what banks do. However, I do and so do thousands of SME owners, employee’s, shareholders and creditors. We live with the consequences.

I also know Andy Verity and Jon Coffey have done extensive research to make this programme and could have used any number of totally outrageous cases because they interviewed loads of SME owners (or ex SME owners) – and I know some of those stories may have been a step too far for the Beeb. In my own case sub judice was a big problem. But I know they made the programme in the spirit of stopping banks abusing SMEs. So has it worked? Has it helped? Will anything change?

Well the Panorama team have done their bit. David, Ed, Nick, Andrew, Mark – over to you. You are the people who can make the banks behave – or at least you should be. If the reality is you’re not – then wow, we have a serious problem in our democracy.

Best quote of the programme, without doubt, has to be Austin Mitchell MP, talking in Parliament about the Keith Ross case and saying it how it really is:

“What I want to do today is tell the story of the theft of a profitable Yorkshire company and I don’t mean the criminal Mafia we often speak of I mean Britain’s dark suited Mafia which in this case is represented by Lloyd Bank and Price Waterhouse Cooper both acting in collusion….”

Here’s the link from Hansard to Keith Elliot’s case: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2013-11-12a.212.0

Of course, living in Italy for nearly 20 years, Austin’s comments would strike a chord with me. Well said Austin – there’s not many MP’s who would draw Parliament’s attention to the similarities between the banks and the Mafia but I would just put you straight on one thing – our dark suited Mafiosi are, in many cases, criminal.

I’m posting this on my own blog site because this is my own view – but I believe many people in SME Alliance will appreciate this view and I have to give us a plug because the conduct exposed in the programme is one of the reasons SME Alliance was formed.

#SME Alliance – giving SMEs a voice. #nooneisabovethelaw

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.

SMEalliance v Parallel Universe.

I was think this morning (actually I was dreaming it as well) about this bizarre situation we have of parallel universes. It’s a situation now so blatantly obvious between SMEs on the one hand and banks, regulators, authorities on the other, that we seem to talk an entirely different language and have an entirely different thought process. A very good example of this is the Lawrence Tomlinson report into RBS/GRG vs the Clifford Chance report. Clearly the two camps are not on the same planet and not writing about the same problem. Or, worse still, Clifford Chance looked at the problem and then interpreted their findings according to the laws of Klingon or the Disc World. Question – which camp is run by aliens?

I would say it’s not us, the SMEs (well I would say that) but I have good grounds for that assumption. We, the many SME owners and employees, have no option than to deal with very real, down to earth problems and situations. Given the many and varied ways banks have tricked, manipulated, defrauded, deceived (call it what you will) the SME sector, many of us, and I can say this as a fact, have problems making budgets stretch to the next day. The concept of what tie to wear to the next Mansion House dinner or what colour Merc to order next year, is totally immaterial to our lives.  We are very ‘grounded’ and we are determined to bring about change, so we don’t end up ‘under-grounded’ before our time.  And of course that is not a scenario that applies just to SMEs – the majority of people in this Country have been affected by the extreme austerity the so called ‘credit crunch’ caused.

So it’s been interesting to see some of the top people from the parallel universe, running around like headless chickens for the last few weeks because they were suddenly forced to face the fact that ordinary people count. I’m talking about the Scottish referendum of course. Even although the ‘No’ vote won in the end, it was a sharp wake up call to “all in it together” Dave and Ed & co, when the Scottish people made it blatantly clear they were sick of a Westminster dictatorship. And although I personally think it would have been a mistake to split the United Kingdom, I do think Alex Salmond and his team may have done everyone a big favour. They’ve made a point – if you want to stay in Government you’ve got to do what it says on the tin – or we’ll walk.

For a very long time now, what we’ve had between Government and people is “a failure to communicate.” And it’s become so out of hand most politicians fail to understand even the most basic problem i.e  we vote them into power based on promises made which will benefit the majority and then, when they’re in power,  they break almost every bloody promise in order to benefit the tiny minority living in the parallel universe which encompasses that tiny dot of Britain in central London to include Westminster and the City.

I don’t want to get involved in the pro’s and con’s of Scottish devolution – I’m not Scottish – but I was quite fascinated by the lengths our political parties went to to keep Scotland. Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating and, in my humble opinion, what will follow now is a battle, the likes of which we haven’t seen for quite a few years, while Scotland insists Dave keeps his promises and the rest of the UK wonders on what grounds Scotland gets preferential treatment – when half of them didn’t want to be part of Britain in the first place? It is going to be very interesting.

Anyway my point is – Scotland has 5M+ voters and the thought of losing them caused many people from la La Land to become quite apoplectic. Suddenly they listened and suddenly they agreed to the need for change. I can’t help feeling this was more about economics than people but, whatever, it brought our aloof elite back to earth for a while. How long they will stay – who knows. But there’s a good chance they’ll be here en mass for the next 9 months.

It took the SNP years to build that momentum and some may feel it is entirely presumptuous to compare SMEalliace to the SNP. But you’d be wrong – every organisation looking for change via our democratic process is similar to the SNP. Our problem so far has been – only money has been having political influence – not people. SMEalliance may be at totally grass root level and we are absolutely a fledgling initiative – but we want change every bit as much as Scotland does – and we want to be listened to every bit as much as Scotland does. And I hope we will grow very quickly as an organisation – because we could potentially reflect the views of millions of people – and some of them Scottish. And no, we can’t vote to get out of Britain (well I suppose we could form a convoy and head for the Costa Del somewhere) but we could vote for the party that listens to us the most – which was always the basic idea behind SMEalliance – we want to raise our voices before more SMEs are brutally trashed.

And here’s a thought running up to the election – if the 4.9M SMEs in this Country were able to function efficiently and grow as the entrepreneurs who started them intended, instead of being continually crippled – and not just by banks – the impact we would have on the economy would be phenomenal. We would be a huge asset to the Country and we would shift the balance of power back from the parallel universe to the real world.

Now I know a lot of people won’t like that idea. But it’s called democracy and if we could identify the political party who would give it a shot – we could be a handy vote.

 

 

 

 

SMEalliance up and running

It’s been a busy week and I still can’t believe that two weeks ago SMEalliance didn’t exist. It certainly does now! Obviously it’s still early days but here’s a brief update of where we are:

We have a company .

We have a domain name smealliance.org.

We have a logo (to be unveiled next week)

The website is being built and should be up and running by the end of next week.

We have a meeting confirmed for 25 people on 24th September at 1.00pm (the venue will be confirmed early next week but if it’s not Chancery Lane it will be within walking distance of Chancery Lane)

We have supporters who can’t make the meeting but are on board.

We have media interest.

Not bad progress for 12 days work.  But I am fully aware we are at the very beginning of something and what we want to achieve will not be easy.

I’ve been repeatedly asked over the last few days, the very obvious question, what will make SMEalliance different from any other organisation that supports SMEs. And I want to say straight away, we haven’t formed this group as a criticism against other organisations.

However, there are serious issues for all SMEs that clearly are not being dealt with or resolved. As these are issues that affect SME owners, shareholders, employees, it makes sense for us to try and help deal with them ourselves and alongside existing organisations. After all, who knows the problems we face better than us? And please note – SMEalliance is absolutely not just about banks – so we are not going into competition with Bully Banks or anyone else – in fact we have a meeting scheduled with Bully Banks and I hope we’ll have meetings with the FSB in the future.

As I said on Day 1 of this initiative – there are 4.9M SMEs in Britain and it is absolutely ridiculous that we are ignored by all the major political parties. They may say they don’t ignore us but the proof of the pudding is; no one is doing anything about the way banks continue to trash SMEs and steal their assets; no one is enforcing the conditions banks agreed to as part of the bailouts (i.e funding for SMEs); no one is looking at the abuse we suffer at the hands of the insolvency sector; no one is looking at the inequitable position we are in with the justice system (i.e first we get abused and then our abusers use shareholders money to make sure we can be abused again in the Courts); we are crippled with red tape and regulation while the major corporations SMEs struggle to compete with, are often not even paying UK taxes because they’re registered off shore; the various Ombudsman schemes are not set up to deal with SME problems; the regulators are not set up to deal with SMEs (e.g the FCA does not deal with individual issues but the FOS can only give limited compensation which doesn’t cater for SME losses); and so on and so forth.

The reason for SMEalliance is: we, the members (the few now and the many coming) are all very aware of how important SMEs are to society but also how individually vulnerable we are against the kind of unethical practise that blights the business community. Many of us started businesses with all the enthusiasm and dedication synonymous with entrepreneurship and with no idea how easy it would be for rogue elements of other sectors to see us as mere cannon fodder. We all employ (or employed) people and we know first hand the devastation caused when businesses fail because of immoral and sometimes fraudulent scenarios we have no control over. I think we’ve been collectively shocked that the protection we thought we had – regulators, law, Government – has, in many cases, proven to be totally ineffectual. Many of us have watched in horror as our businesses have been destroyed despite our every effort to save them. We’ve all tried individually to stop the kind of corruption and “wilful blindness” that makes SMEs such easy prey. Now we’re going to do it collectively. Who better than us to try and help remedy the problems facing our sector?

SMEalliance is a very simple concept. SME owners, shareholders, employees getting together to share idea’s and information that will help us all. And, most of all, having a collective voice that policy makers in Governments have to listen to. I’ll put that another way because a) “HAVE” to listen suggests we have a very aggressive agenda and b) as we all know, selective hearing or pretending to listen (nodding dog syndrome) is a speciality of some politicians. We want to get to the point where political parties genuinely WANT to listen to us and genuinely want to use our experiences to identify what needs to be changed or put in place for a more equitable platform for SMEs. It can only be a good thing for the economy to make the SME sector strong.

It’s a plan. It’s a very good plan. Now we just need to make it work! As I said, it’s early days but something about this does feel very logical.

That’s it for now. Anymore and someone will be buying me a soapbox! Will update again in the week. Please spread the word. #SMEalliance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1st SME Alliance meeting fully subscribed.

Brilliantly we have filled the spaces available for the first meeting of SME Alliance. Many thanks to those who have also pledged support – we will keep them fully updated on the agenda and, of course, the results of the meeting.

While we don’t have any more space for the meeting, please do keep contacting us on: smealliance2014@gmail.com if you want to support this initiative and get updates. It’s early days but who knows? After all it is logical – approx 25million people work for the  4,9 million + SMEs in this country. But in recent years we’ve been like lambs to the slaughter as far as the bamks have been concerned and successive Governments have done nothing to stop what’s happening. Bankers may well control the wealth of the country but they’re not (quite) brazen enough (yet) to pretend they have more power than politicians and Governments.

A journalist asked me today why we are putting together this initiative – and then answered his own questions. The organisations that are in place don’t seem to have been at all vocal about the many problems SMEs face. Most of them have been silent and stood on the sidelines.

As my mother used to say – “if you want a job well done, do it yourself.” That’s what SMEalliance intends to do. This isn’t just about fighting banks. It’s about asking how 25 million people, who are the life blood of British business, can be totally ignored?

We have no more space for the first meeting (which is amazing given we only came into being a week ago) but we do need the support of as many SME owners and employees as possible. A few thousand supporters between now and the general election next year, may just remind people what an election is about?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update re: meeting of SMEalliance 24th September 2014

09/09/14

Many thanks for the replies. As I’ve been in Oxford all day (but I live in Cambridge) I haven’t had time to respond – but I will. What is going on in this Country – we have major road works on our busiest roads in rush hour traffic? And then they open the roads at night when there’s hardly any traffic? So just over 2 hours to get back from Oxford but 3&1/2 to get there! Bonkers.

Rant over – As we still have to book the venue, it would be really good if anyone else wanting to come on 24th September could reply by 11.00am tomorrow so I can pass the definitive numbers on to Jon Welsby who is finding the best place.

Thanks also to those who can’t attend but want to support SMEalliance. Crazy to think all this started just a week ago! I wonder where we’ll be in a month? I’m really looking forward to meeting you all. And I would just add – after the meeting I had today with a really lovely farmer and his family, who have been totally abused by banks, the quicker we get a voice and some muscle, the better!!

Best

Nikki

From the replies received it seems that Wednesday 24th September is the best date for the 1st meeting of SMEalliance. So that’s it – we have a date. It’s been suggested the meeting should take place at 1.00pm because some people have a considerable distance to travel – and no one wants to by peak time rail tickets if they can avoid it.

What we can’t confirm as yet, is the venue – because we don’t know how many people want to attend? We have a list of 8 people who will definitely be coming but because last week was so hectic, I haven’t had a chance to confirm the names of many others who have expressed an interest to be involved. Until we know the numbers, we can’t confirm the venue. Jon Welsby has suggested a couple of venues he can get but they can only accommodate 10 – 12 people at max. I am sure we can find a bigger venue if more people want to come and our priority now is to confirm the numbers.

I have set up a specific e-mail address for people to confirm their attendance:

smealliance2014@gmail.com

Alternatively you can confirm by commenting on this blog.

Please let me know (if possible by Wednesday morning) if you would like to come. I am in Oxford all day tomorrow but would really like to be able to work on this Wednesday. Once we have that info I can e-mail all participants with a venue and an agenda (of sorts). Please bear in mind – this is a fledgling initiative at the moment and the purpose of the meeting is to make a plan for the future and create a strong group that will have a voice. I am not necessarily leading the group as the meeting may produce someone better suited to the job. But I am more than happy to help get us to that stage.

It would also be very helpful to receive an e-mail from anyone who isn’t in a position to come on the 24th but still wants to support #smealliance and receive regular update. Please make it very clear on e-mails on in comments – I WANT TO ATTEND ON THE 24th SEPTEMBER or I WANT TO SUPPORT SMEalliance AND RECEIVE UPDATES. At this stage the only info we need is the confirmation, a name, e-mail address (which we’ll obviously have), a twitter name (if you tweet) and a phone number if you want to give it – not obligatory.

Next blog on Wednesday or Thursday – hopefully with a venue and an agenda for the 1st meeting. Obviously the agenda will only go to those who are attending the meeting or want to support. Oh – and any bankers signing up to get inside information – we would be very happy for you to attend and speak to us!

Look forward to hearing from everyone.

Best

Nikki

 

re: SME Alliance

Quick update for all those who supported the idea of an SME Alliance to get some political support (in exchange for a potentially massive vote). I was quite amazed at how many people wanted to get involved – a very positive start.

Today I have spoken to Jon Welsby who is happy to organise a meeting place. So far the suggested dates are either 17th or 24th September. Please let me or Jon know which of the two dates (if either) are good. The meeting will be in London at a barristers chambers (start how we mean to continue)!

I just wanted to make one thing very clear. My intention, when suggesting this, was never to compete with other organisations like Bully Banks who help SMEs fight banks – and I hope Bully Banks and others will want to get involved. Also, although we do have the support of the excellent Nick Gould who is a lawyer, this initiative was never about legal advice or solutions and no lawyer could advise 4M SMEs! Neither is is about our individual cases – although I envisage we may want to collate our collective experiences in the future in order to fully exhibit how Government and the regulators have allowed SMEs to be mugged (I tried to think of a more politically correct description – but the word mugged seemed most appropriate).

The overriding objective of an SME Alliance is to point out what is, quite frankly, the beedin’ obvious: There are 4.9M SMEs in Britain (at least); Approx 25M people work for SMEs; we are crucial to the British economy and British society; we have been ignored. We are fed up being ignored and while, individually, Governments appear to have no interest in us, collectively we will have a very loud voice – and we will represent a very large vote.

Many of us have been totally abused by banks and, sadly, we have all had to come to the conclusion we can’t rely on any authority to protect our interests or the interests of our employees or shareholders – which is madness because we are the life blood of British business. And while we obviously can’t lobby or compete with the multi-billion pound banks or corporations in a financial sense, we have something they don’t have – numbers and voters. And running up to an election, I think it’s entirely possible that the votes in the ballot boxes will be every bit as important as the ballots in the board rooms.

I should know by the beginning of next week, which date is best for our first meeting and who will be attending. And BTW – I am organising this at the moment (I always knew my bossy side would have its day) but that is only until we decide how best to go forward and who best to take this forward.

I am incredibly enthused by the idea we could collectively bring about change for SMEs – not sure our political leaders feel the same. I tweeted the letter to Ed, Dave and Nick today. No replies – but then again, we haven’t even reached the end of Day1.

Watch this post – will do an update every time we have news.  All ideas and contacts gratefully received. Spread the word. #SMEalliance