Category Archives: elections

How much more contempt must society swallow from banks?

Interesting few weeks – the election of course with the Conservatives winning a majority – who saw that one coming? And, in the process, the Tories appear to have demolished most of the other parties, not to mention some key names in politics. Of course the SNP helped the Tories enormously – the idea of Labour with the SNP running Westminster had a devastating effect. It’s almost as if we collectively had visions of bearded, kilted Scotsmen rampaging all over England intent on rape and pillage, when we still haven’t recovered from the suited and booted Scotsmen who ran the Government and some of the big banks – so that didn’t help poor Ed. And this just goes to show that while we pat ourselves on the back for being a liberal, accommodating, multi cultural society, the truth is we’re every bit as Nationalistic as Germany, France or Italy. And why not? What’s wrong with being fiercely protective of your Country? And while, in this instance, we conveniently forgot Scotland is part of Britain, I think many of us did reasonably feel that is a tenuous situation which a second referendum could change.

Anyway the Conservatives won and that was certainly a relief to big business who were apparently sure Ed Miliband was anti business. But I wonder if anyone in politics could make a difference to the whims and pleasures of major corporations now – and especially our financial sector?

One thing that has been made abundantly clear (again) in the last week with a US Judge handing out multi billion pounds fines to our big banks, is how much more powerful banks are than Governments. If I was trying to explain to an alien what’s been going on over the last twenty years in the ‘Incredible saga between banks and society’ I would say:

“From the late 90’s, bankers decided they could make more money and bigger bonuses by forgoing traditional banking and behaving recklessly, unethically and with gay, greedy abandon until this conduct nearly brought even the wealthiest of nations to their knees by 2008. So Governments bailed the banks out with the monies they collect in taxes to pay for essential services, even although this caused mass austerity for millions of ordinary people. But we never really got to the bottom of the reckless behaviour and we certainly didn’t blame anyone. So bankers realised very quickly they could carry on with that kind of behaviour and nothing much would happen.

Pardon? Yes we do have laws on this planet and yes bankers did break them but the leaders running the various countries on behalf of the people, decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to apply the laws to the bankers? Why – well apparently it’s complicated (or so we’re told) and, aside from anything else, we, the public, would have felt loath to trust a financial sector where some of the bosses turned out to be convicted felons.

Yes I know some of them may well be ‘criminals in pinstripe’ but that’s not the point. You can’t just go around calling people crooks if our justice system hasn’t confirmed it – so the trick is, don’t prosecute people and then no one can say they’ve done anything criminal.

What happened next? Well obviously, realising they had immunity from the law and could therefore do what the f*ck they liked with no personal consequence, the bankers dreamt up even more blatantly criminal scams to make money because – what did they have to lose? And when they (banks – not bankers) were found guilty of crimes, either their share holders or the tax payer (again) paid massive fines on behalf of the banks to the organisations set up to make sure banks did behave well and didn’t break any laws in the first place.

No I don’t know why these organisations didn’t police the banks properly. But I suppose if they had, they wouldn’t have been able to demand billions of pounds in fines at a later date.

What happened to the bosses running the banks? Well obviously they got huge bonuses even although they were overseeing criminal operations. And let’s be logical – the banks may have been fined billions of pounds but that’s a fraction of the profit they made while acting illegally. So you could say these bosses were doing a good job in terms of making money – which is all banks care about.

Yes, you’ve summed that up beautifully – the people bailed the banks out when they lost everyone’s money; then the banks carried on robbing the countries blind while paying their executives millions of pounds and finally; the public paid the fines for their criminal conduct. It’s a total Catch 22 as far as society is concerned.

I realise it makes no sense to you – it makes no sense to most people on the planet. Don’t we have a say in all this you ask? Well yes we do. We vote for the kind of leadership we think will be best for society and who will stop this kind of thing. So why doesn’t it stop? I don’t know. And yes, I’d say society is deeply offended our elected representatives have given bankers immunity from the laws of the land. Many of us are trying to do something about it. I have written many a letter to various leaders asking for a logical explanation to what’s going on http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

I haven’t had any replies – no doubt our leaders are very busy trying to work out how to balance the scales of a disappointed and furious populace on the one hand and the all powerful and Government empowered banks on the other hand. It can’t be easy forecasting which camp will do the most damage if not appeased. Especially if there’s not much you can do about the situation.

And no, I don’t know how much more contempt society can swallow before it all turns very nasty.

What, you’re off to find a more logical, ethical planet for your holiday? I don’t blame you. At least you managed to catch the Eurovision Song Contest while you were here. Do you know, that used to be considered one of the most bizarre, hilarious and illogical things on the planet? Now it seems like a welcome break in an even more bizarre reality.”

So 5000 SMEs supported the Tories but who will support 5M SMEs?

For some reason – and I can’t for the life of me understand what the reason is – in the recent election debates, none of the political parties have raised the issues of banks (you know the ones that caused mass austerity) bank misconduct (PPI, IRHP, EFG’s, Libor rigging, GRG, HBOS Reading, money laundering for drug cartels etc. etc) or the related issues of law and order and a two tier justice system. You know, the one whereby the majority of crimes committed by anyone in our financial sector results in no one going to jail and shareholders paying hefty fines for the “get out of jail free cards”.

Apparently none of this conduct and none of these issues are relevant to the election and we don’t need to know what the parties intend to do about them – if anything?

It’s been suggested (and probably rightly) that politicians feel such a minority of the population has been directly affected by such issues, it’s not worth making a big deal about them – not really a vote winner.

I just want explain why I think that is a total misconception. It affects millions.

On Monday the Telegraph ran an article about the 5000 SME owners who have signed Baroness Brady’s letter and pledged their support to the Conservative party. Personally I don’t think that was a very wise PR tactic because the obvious question is, who do the other 4,995,000 support? However the point I want to make is – according to the article 5000 SMEs represents 100,000 jobs.

According to the FCA, more than 60,000 SMEs were mis sold IRHP (Interest rate swaps): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/10527353/FCA-chief-warns-Treasury-swaps-scandal-could-be-significantly-bigger.html

So by the logic of Baroness Brady’s letter, that would represent 1,200,000 jobs.

Recently, Clive May, a builder and founder member of SME Alliance, successfully got an admission from RBS that they had miss-sold EFG loans and were now investigating 1800 of them: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-2915335/Relief-fierce-critic-RBS-admission-mis-selling-loans.html

That’s another another 36,000 jobs and of course it’s the tip of the iceberg because a lot of banks were ‘mis-selling’ EFGs and, before that, SFLGs. According to Government statistics 1,740,736 EFG loans were drawn down between November 2008 and November 2013. Obviously, or should I say hopefully, not all of them were miss sold. But even working on the calculation only 10% were (and I think I’m being generous there) that’s still 174,073. Assuming (again hopefully) only 10% of that number resulted in SMEs being fatally damaged, that’s still 17,407 SMEs which, according to yesterdays statistics, equals approx. 348,000 jobs.

You see where this is going? Add to those figures the victims of asset stripping etc etc and you won’t get much change from the fact at least 100,000 SMEs who employed approximately 2,000,000 people, have been affected by bank misconduct. And that’s a conservative estimate. If you then add all the SMEs who were creditors of the failed businesses and who then had their own difficulties, the picture is very bleak. When I was investigating the HBOS Reading debacle, I started keeping a chart of the creditors affected and I gave up when I reached 20,000 – most of whom were SMEs.

All of the above wouldn’t be so devastating but for the other key issue being ignored in the election debate – justice and law and order. If SMEs could rely on the regulators, we may not feel so anxious to know what the political parties are planning to do about access to justice. But we can’t. I’m not going into detail here – but I can assure you that in the majority of cases, we can’t.

Neither can most of us afford civil litigation – and especially now when court fees have gone up to £10,000 while legal aid is all but non existent for SMEs. And, leaving aside court fees, in my view many SMEs are being seen as little more than cash cows by some legal firms who clearly think their remuneration should be on a par with bankers – regardless of whether or not they get results for their clients. And some, having milked the cow, drop the client the moment the udders run dry.

Where banks have committed criminal offences (and there have been many) we wouldn’t be so worried if we could report these crimes to the police and know justice would prevail. Again, in most cases that’s not an option and, on the odd occasion it does happen, you need to be prepared to wait years for any outcome. Generally speaking criminal prosecutions against bankers remain as rare as rocking horse sh*t and we’ve seen over and over again how banks deal with their crimes – they get shareholders to pay whacking great big fines and that’s the end of it.

Unbelievably our justice system and Governments (Labour and then the Coalition) seems to turn a blind eye to the fact so many crimes are going unpunished. Unbelievably, we, the public, have come to accept that status quo. There is now indisputable evidence bankers are not subject to the same laws as ordinary people. Additionally, SMEs know even when they can prove (and even in a Court) that a bank destroyed businesses, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything will be done about it: https://derekcarlylevrbs.wordpress.com/. Seems some banks are as cavalier in their view of a Judges power, as they are in politicians power.

I know I’ve waited 8 years for justice and it’s still not on the horizon. I know many members of SME Alliance are in the same boat. And those bankers who are deliberately perverting the course of justice by denying or burying criminality they are fully cognisant of, are still being given telephone number bonuses to continue this charade. Yes, Dave, Ed, Nick, we know all of that.

What we don’t know is: WHICH POLITICAL PARTY WILL ADDRESS THESE MATTERS AND SUPPORT SMES? #Justasking

But it’s never too late for someone to tell us. Who knows, maybe at the 11th hour one of the political parties will pull the cat out of the bag and show some support for the thousands of SMEs that have been ravaged by banks and who are really struggling to get justice.

And that could be a big vote winner.

BTW Before some annoying troll posts on twitter that neither I nor SME Alliance speak for or represent the views of all SMEs – I totally agree. That’s hardly the issue – this blog is about which politicians will speak out for SMEs – and will they do it before the election?

The Big Pink Elephants in the 2015 Election debate – ‘Law and Order’ – Justice.

smeallianceposterYesterday we had a call from a farmer in Scotland. Like many of the farmers we know, he took out what was supposed to be a bridging loan with UK Acorn Finance and now, with the claimed debt doubling in 4 years, he’s about to be evicted. In this particular instance he is being asked to pay back almost twice what he borrowed and, having made a substantial offer to ameliorate the situation, he and his wife are still being evicted. Sadly in this instance, I’m not sure what my husband Paul can do to help. Over the years and on top of our own 22 repossession hearings, Paul has become a bit of an expert at staving off evictions. But the call we had yesterday was to help stop an eviction due to take place on Tuesday. And to make matters worse, it’s a Bank Holiday in Scotland tomorrow, so there’s no time to do anything.

That was the third call for help we’ve had in five days. And that’s over and above the cases Paul is working on anyway to keep people in their homes or farms and to help them get compensation from various bank related scenarios that have devastated their lives.

Add that to the number of cases the SME Alliance adviser panel, Jon Welsby, Andy Keats, Ray Baker, Mel Loades and Steve Middleton are working on – or the cases Bully Banks are working on as well as the many other support groups and you start to get the picture. Whether because of IRHP, EFG, so called business support units like GRG or HBOS Reading, or out and out asset and land theft by dodgy sub-prime lenders working with the big banks, which is happening all over the Country, the fact is economic crime has reached epidemic proportions.

And the reason for this? A complete break down in law and order.

If it wasn’t so tragic, you’d have to laugh. For example, consider the news last week that an intruder alert from premises in Hatton Garden – diamond and gold centre of London – went off but the police decided to take absolutely no notice of it! I know the police have a severe aversion to economic crime but burglary? Really? They don’t go after burglars now?

According to the blog in the following link, the police HAVE to investigate all crimes and can’t pick and choose but it also confirms they often do their best not to investigate crimes.
http://crimebodge.com/how-to-force-the-police-to-investigate-a-crime/

In my experience that’s very true and a fraud investigator from my local police force once told me the police couldn’t investigate my allegations of fraud against a major bank because the bank in question assured them there was no fraud. A different police force did investigate this fraud albeit three years later and they have since called it “the biggest bank fraud in British history.” Mind you, whether the people charged ever actually stand trial is a debatable point – not that the law should be debatable. But that’s another story.

The point of this blog is – over and above the bizarre case of police ignoring a robbery in the diamond district of Britain, white collar crime continues to cause mass austerity and destroy thousands of SMEs in this Country, but not one person in the recent #leadersdebate, mentioned ‘Law & Order’, ‘Justice’, ‘White Collar Crime’, ‘Bankers’, ‘Bank Reform’, ‘Access To Justice’ or ‘SMEs’. Except for the Welsh candidate, who did give small businesses in Wales a brief mention.

So, how could anyone have a serious debate and ignore the big pink elephants in the Country? How can SMEs on the one hand be called the back bone of the Country and on the other hand, just before an election, the Government puts Court costs up so the inequitable situation we already have, has now got even worse? At a time when so many SMEs in the UK are so desperate for a more level playing field to protect themselves against errant banks with deep pockets and huge legal teams, Chris Grayling and his team have decided to dig a bloody great big hole in the field! And in doing so he has confirmed, yet again, in so many cases involving banks or the financial sector, justice is only available to the highest bidder. And will any of the other parties redress this situation? Well who knows. Nothing in the debate gave us any clues?

Yesterday I filled in a survey I had been sent by a university on the subject of the 2015 Election and the leaders’ debate. It asked me, amongst other things, if the debate had helped me make a more informed choice about who to vote for? NO. It absolutely didn’t help me make an informed choice because many of the key issues ruining this Country, were simply ignored. Yes the future of the NHS is hugely important. Yes immigration is very important – although I’m not sure who will do the many low paid but very essential jobs in the NHS if we adopt Nigel Farage’s policies on immigration. But surely Justice and Law and Order, which includes stopping bankers raping the Country, should have been on the agenda?

The fact it wasn’t really does make you wonder who is running the Country? Who decided what questions would be asked in the leaders’ debate? More importantly, who decided what questions would be excluded? Did someone run the list of questions past Ross McEwan, and Antonio Horta Osorio?

And, in a democratic country, how can things like this happen:

“A bankrupt Lanarkshire businessman fears that a seven-year-long legal battle with banking giant RBS will continue despite a landmark court ruling in his favour.

Property developer Derek Carlyle’s dispute with RBS began in 2008 when the bank pulled out of a loan leaving his business – Carlyco Ltd – “in ruins”.
However, last month the legal process took a turn to Mr Carlyle’s advantage when the UK Supreme Court ruled that a judge’s 2010 decision – that the bank had broken their promise to him over the loan – had been the right one.
Mr Carlyle said this week: “The fair thing for the bank to do now would be to fully accept the decision of the UK Supreme Court, admit they were wrong and settle the matter of damages.
“However, that does not appear to be the RBS way in my experience, and I therefore expect to have to take them back to court to force them to pay up.”
http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/rbs-bankrupt-lanarkshire-businessman-fears-5470583

Even when the Supreme Court rules a Bank, RBS, is in the wrong, it makes no difference. It’s as if the RBS executives think they’re in an episode of Kevin and Perry. “Yeh, so the Judge said we’re wrong. And? He is so unfair.”

What amazes me as much as anything, is the fact more MPs are not up in arms at the way some banks and bankers literally stick two fingers up to them and therefore to the democratic process. Occasionally some do show frustration and only recently Margaret Hodge on the Audit Committee was very obviously outraged with the answers she was getting from the “yes but my offshore account is all perfectly above board” and the “I can only look at the information I’m given at my £10k a day job” HSBC bosses. Similarly I’ve seen Andrew Tyrie at the TSC look extremely ‘miffed’ when talking to bankers. But what good does it do? Mr Tyrie may make the bankers squirm a bit but their seven figure salaries more than make up for a bit of ritual humiliation. And it’s not as if anyone has the power to stop what they’re doing. Or stop paying them handsomely to do more of the same. It seems whatever these top bankers do, good, bad, unethical or blatantly criminal, they face no penalty. How does that work? And what about party leaders? Have they considered the possibility that public perception is getting to the point where we are wondering if bankers have more power than elected representatives? And that’s across the board because Labour under both Blair and Brown were pretty keen on giving Knighthoods to the very bankers who brought the economy to its knees – and the coalition has shown itself to be equally fond of bankers.

So, going back to the forthcoming election, I’d be really grateful if any of the political parties would make it clear: where they stand on law and order; which party will focus on a more just society for all; which one of them will really cause serious reform in our major banks; which one of them will give the police and the SFO the resources they need to do their job properly; which of them will recognise the minimal access to justice SMEs have when trying to defend themselves against totally out of control rogue banks and; which party will realise how important SMEs are to the economy and give them the support they need? In short – who will lay these big pink elephants to rest?

As my good friend Nick Gould says – just asking.

Sadly I don’t think the answers, should anyone provide them, will do much good to the farmer and his family in Scotland who, it seems almost certain, will be evicted on Tuesday. Unless of course UK Acorn Finance decide they will, for once, do the right thing and accept the incredibly generous offer that’s been made to them? I hope so.

If – and I know it’s a big if – there is anyone reading this who could also help this family, please e-mail smealliance2014@gmail.com so I can pass on the details.

Apathy International. Does anyone really expect HSBC or wealthy tax evaders to be prosecuted?

I had an interesting conversation on twitter last night with someone I don’t know from Canada – although I think he is British. The very topical subject was “why are wealthy people guilty of tax evasion not prosecuted?” And right from the start of the conversation my twitter friend, let’s call him Bill, made the point that in his view it would cost so much money and take so much time to prosecute them all, it would be counter productive. The cost would be more than the gain.

Bill is probably right. Tracking down the thousands of people identified by the Swiss Whistle blower (and let’s face it, as he says, his list is the tip of the iceberg) would cost a fortune and would probably result in very lengthy criminal trials where the only beneficiaries would be the lawyers. And Bill compared the situation to the gun amnesty used in the US. Hand in your unlicensed gun and we’ll say no more about it. Here the equivalent would be throw the tax man a few thousand pounds voluntarily and we’ll call it a day. I say a few thousand because, in the same way it wouldn’t be cost effective to prosecute these people, I can’t imagine HMRC have the manpower or even the will to do full on investigations into how much is actually owed?

My point was (and is) even considering the logistics of this situation, how can a democratic country ditch the law in the case of one section of society because it’s not cost effective to enforce law? Tax evasion is against the law and nowhere does it say “unless you are part of a rich minority who has been advised by your bank to shunt your money offshore.”

I also made the point HMRC will go through hell and high water to prosecute so called benefit cheats or even people on low incomes who may have been overpaid and then can’t pay it back. Similarly SMEs will be hounded for perceived VAT or tax issues and, if the man in the street doesn’t get all his tax returns in precisely on time and to their satisfaction, HMRC will be very efficient in sending out demands for what they calculate is owed or hefty fines. They also have no compunction about prosecuting for a few hundred pounds if they feel it is due. And that happens to thousands of people.

Bill made the point it doesn’t make any difference whether you cheat the tax man of £50.00 or £5M – it’s still against the law. I agree. So why do I have this horrible feeling you are less likely to be penalised for the £5M than the £50? And the same seems to be true of money laundering or other economic crimes. Big banks money laundering for drug cartels just get hefty fines paid by their shareholders but no one goes to jail. Here’s an extract from my book about HBOS (to be published in the dim and distant future) on these criminal but curiously acceptable transactions:

And by the way, how does that happen? It’s common knowledge now that certain banks have done these totally illegal deals and, yet again, no one in any bank is to blame and instead, the shareholders have paid massive fines as a penalty for bankers conduct. But if no one’s to blame, how do the deals get done? Do the bosses of the drug cartels phone a special ‘money laundering’ call centre and listen to an anonymous voice giving various options: “Please dial 1 for drug deals, 2 for arms deals or 3 for off shore tax evasion. To hear these options again, please dial 4.” Or do the Banks have departments which deal specifically with these ‘dodgy transactions’ and where the staff work in the secure knowledge no one will ever go to jail for criminal deals because bankers are above the law?”

Then there’s other proven fraudulent products like IRHP – another fine. Out and out asset theft from SMEs – another fine. PPI, EFG, SFLG, it’s becoming like a game show – think of an acronym and the contestants get to guess the appropriate meaning and the applicable fine. Winner gets two weeks in the Caymen Islands all expenses (and of course taxes) paid by the FCA. But if you or I were to commit any deliberately fraudulent act to turn a quick profit, you could expect and get the full force of the law to come into force.

However, taxes and financial crime aside, what really disturbed me about my twitter conversation which, by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed because I love a good debate, was the apathy involved. While Bill agreed with me we shouldn’t have a two tier justice system, his very logical approach was, as Tony Soprano would say, wattayagonnado? We are where we are and there’s little we can do about it – apparently.

I am pretty sure the members of SME Alliance would not agree. Most of them (me included) have been victims of the many and varied banking scams which have devastated SMEs. Most of us have been fighting for justice for what seems like a lifetime and sometimes pretty much is and we are, putting it politely, extremely angry at the way banks, who have caused us so much damage, are never penalised except with shareholders fines. Neither are they obliged by the regulators to repair the damage done. So when we hear about people with very healthy off shore bank accounts, organised by their bank, becoming immune from prosecution, we are anything but apathetic, we’re furious. It’s another slap in the face of the British justice system and another reason we are losing faith in it.

But, being honest, I think back to my life before the consequences of fraudulent bankers and their associates kicked in – was I even aware of our two tier justice system? Admittedly inequality has got worse since the so called credit crunch but, if my business hadn’t been sabotaged and had instead fulfilled its full potential and made millions of pounds, would I be seriously concerned about the conduct of the likes of HSBC and its tax dodging clients? Would I be calling for prosecutions? Or would I be taking the rather detached and very logical approach Bill takes?

We have a saying in our house, “you can’t not know what you do know.” And that’s a shame because the things I now know after 7 years of investigating bank fraud and social injustice, very often stop me sleeping at night. I didn’t sleep much last night thinking it’s possible a massive segment of society may be so oblivious to what is happening to democracy or, more likely, just trying to get on with their own reduced circumstances in austerity Britain, they don’t even care about off shore accounts in Switzerland or Monaco. But I think (or should I say I hope) I would have been aware, albeit to a lesser degree, of the increasing dangers our democracy faces even if I hadn’t experienced the consequences personally. I’m a lyricist and a poet and I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez – so the spirit of protest has always been there. But who knows? As long as the comfortable remain comfortable, will they rock the boat? Hmmn. While apathy is, on the one hand a powerful tool for the State, it’s also a powerful tool for the individual conscience.

“If there is nothing I can do about injustice, no one can blame me for doing nothing.” It’s a scary concept but one that has helped permit every shameful human catastrophe.

Anyway, I don’t know what the resolution is to the HSBC tax evaders or the many other tax evaders who were no doubt advised by other banks. Quite frankly, I think those banks must be bricking it in case their own whistle blowers come forward. I agree with Bill, it is impractical to think HMRC can or will prosecute all of these people. But, and remembering this year sees the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta, if we are truly a democratic society, I cannot see how Government, or the appropriate authority, cannot prosecuted them? After all, one person has been prosecuted and surely that has set the precedent? And what was so special about that case? Seems a bit harsh – thousands do it but only one pays the price.

I wouldn’t like to be running this Country. Whatever good intentions any of our politicians have, there seems to be an endless barrage of obstacles in the way of good governance and most of those involve the necessity to compromise and close their eyes to the kind of corruption that is swamping the Country. Hard, I imagine, not to just go with the flow for the 5 years they are in power. And hardest for those in power as opposed to those in opposition where it’s easy to shout foul (especially if you have a short memory)!

If anyone thinks they have the answer to the current problem – is it possible to prosecute every criminal act in the financial system and the associated activities like tax evasion, I’d be happy to hear it and I’m sure many politicians would as well. If we did take this route, we’d have to build a lot more prisons because financial crime, without doubt, is more epidemic or contagious than the flu and we have no jab for it. We seem to have no cure for corruption.

I leave you with a poem I wrote in 2003. I rarely inflict poetry on my blog readers but this one seems entirely appropriate.

Apathy International

I am a member of

Apathy International.

I am working my way up in the company

and should shortly become

a bored member.

Membership was free

and just slipped onto my shoulders

during a raging storm,

like a comfortable old raincoat.

The effects are almost unnoticeable

as is everything else now.

And, as in all such large organisations,

only non members receive active attention,

so I fully expect to disappear completely and painlessly any day now.

(Which I really can’t worry about).

But late at night I wake up

terrified

as a distant but unfiltered image of raw gaping wounds stabs me

and I can hear the hideous cackle of the devil’s favourite shareholders

and I recognise the voice of our beloved CEO crooning

and I think I will implode with panic.

But in the grey reasoned morning light

I think –

what could I do? Nothing.

So I don’t –

except to gently fondle my membership badge.

© Nikki Turner 2003

Bad Saturday – Twenty people with teacups can’t stop the flames of the next credit crunch.

Not a good start to a Saturday. First the post arrived and it was one letter with a barely legible hand written envelope to Mr P Turner – well done to our postman for deciphering the address. All the same we could see immediately who it came from because of the Royal Courts of Justice stamp on it. We were surprised because we don’t have a pending case in the Courts. What we do have is an indefinitely stayed case regarding our never ending eviction hearings. It’s stayed pending the outcome of the HBOS Reading trials which were due to start in January 2015, were moved to September 2015 and, a couple of weeks ago, were moved again to 2016.

For those reading this who don’t know anything about Paul and I, we have spent years investigating and exposing a major bank scandal. It took us from mid 2007 to September 2009 to get the regulator involved and then another year to get the police involved even although we reported it in December 2007. For our troubles, HBOS and then Lloyds Banking Group tried to evict us 20 times and on their last attempt a Circuit Judge allowed it and refused us permission to appeal. So our last hearing was the second of 2 in the High Court where we were asking for and then granted permission to appeal. That was in August 2010. However, by this time the police were involved and the first arrests in the case were in September 2010. So in December 2010 the Bank asked us to agree to an indefinite suspension of any eviction hearing on the grounds both we and they were witnesses in criminal proceedings – it wouldn’t do for witnesses to be fighting each other. That’s where we are – on hold until the criminal trials are over and God only knows when that will happen – although thinking about it, God probably doesn’t know either.

Anyway, the letter, or rather the form from the Courts this morning, informed us that our case is now closed and we have 14 days to retrieve our paper work or it will be destroyed.

This could mean one of two things: First, a clerk in the court, tasked with filing, has seen the date on our case and assumed it must be over, or sorted, or in any event not going ahead because it’s dated 2010. I might make that assumption myself in the same way I would have assumed the HBOS Reading trials would have been over 4+ years after people were arrested. And if this is the case, which I hope it is, we simply have to inform the Court our case is not over and is still active.

The second and darker scenario is that this is some form of legal trickery by the Bank to get the case out of the High Court and maybe back to a friendly Circuit Judge. I can’t see why the Bank would do this or how it would be advantageous to them when they could simply carry on waiting for the criminal case to start which could be never? But, while I repeatedly say (these days and as a founder of SME Alliance) that I firmly believe there are good banks and good bankers, sadly I don’t include Lloyds Banking Group or team Horta-Osorio in that bracket. And I am always waiting for their next malicious move.

You don’t hear much about HBOS these days although there was a small flurry of news when it was reported the FCA review into HBOS (like the HBOS Reading trials) has been delayed yet again – until after the election. Well there’s a surprise. But I don’t think this is because anyone in Government or in the FCA/PRA has forgotten about HBOS – we are constantly reminding them it remains unresolved. I think it’s still a priority – or at least burying what happened at HBOS is still a priority.

Which leads me on to the second disturbing thing about this Saturday morning. Included in our e-mails this morning were a couple from our friends at WBUK (whistle blowers) who wanted to share a video on Youtube. The video is of ‘The Spaniard’ interviewing a former employee of the FSA/FCA turned whistle blower. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS5c1FmVL8M

The whistle blower, who almost certainly isn’t called ‘Joanne’, says she worked in the financial sector for 15, 16 years and her last job was to help the FCA write mortgage policy so a financial crisis couldn’t happen again (so she was looking at what happened with sub prime) – I have no reason to doubt what she’s saying. She also says or confirms what a lot of us have felt for a very long time – the regulator is paid for and controlled by the banks.

This is not a revelation and I do remember a senior enforcement officer of the FSA telling Paul and I the FSA BoS Censure Report of March 2012 could have been published two years before it was but for Lloyds stopping it – which was a clear case of the tail wagging the dog.

Ridiculously maybe, even people like me who have battled long and hard with the FSA for 7+ years, still hope there is an element of good intention in the Regulator’s office and that ultimately, it will do what it says on the tin – i.e. regulate, control and, where necessary penalise the banks and bankers to stop them doing more damage to the economy and to society as a whole.

Some would say that is a very naïve view and one I have no excuse for holding but actually, it is essential we hold on to this hope because the alternative is too dark to consider. Which is why I found ‘Joanne’s’ words so depressing this morning. I am a member of WBUK and I know there is no glory to blowing the whistle. Whether you blow the whistle on the MoD, NHS or the financial sector, all you will get for your efforts is aggravation, alienation and sadly, in many cases, persecution leading to serious depression. So I think Joanne would have thought long and hard before she did this interview.

It’s quite hard to hear what she’s saying because it was a telephone interview so I’ve transcribed a couple of extracts:

“….it was all about making sure you work with the banks to protect the banks, not to protect the people. It’s definitely not independent – everything had to go back through the banks, even the wall to wall control by banks – it was absolutely astonishing. I was amazed at the amount of politics that was there and the fact that everything had to be referred back to – did it reflect well on the Government, did it reflect well on the banks – and that was the aim of everything.”

…. and in my opinion there were rules already in place that could have been used to prosecute banks and could have been used to hold somebody to account for what happened in the massive mortgage mis-selling scandals. But they weren’t because nobody had the will to. Because that’s not what we were there to do – we were there to give the impression that’s what we were doing but you weren’t actually supposed to do it.”

I would have transcribed more but it’s too depressing – maybe I will tomorrow. In short, what Joanne is saying is, all the harsh words from politicians, from the Treasury, from the regulators about how bad our banks are and what is being done to reform them, are no more than lip service put regularly in the public arena to deceive us. In reality the banks have been and are still holding all the cards and pulling all the strings. When you go to the regulator with a serious complaint, you are really sharing information with the banks and they will decide how it is dealt with. If Joanne is right in her allegations then Paul and I have furnished the Bank with 35,000 pieces of evidence about HBOS Reading. Not very clever of us.

Back to this morning’s post and Mr HO. I have no faith or trust that the HBOS Reading trials will ever go ahead – I hope I’m wrong but considering Joanne’s words, it seems unlikely the establishment would allow such a controversial story to come out. Similarly the FCA report into HBOS. If regulation is all about protecting banks and not the people, HBOS is a hot potato that at all costs must be mashed to a pulp and then smothered in a gluttonous gravy that makes it impossible to recognise let alone swallow.

While Ian Fraser’s brilliant book ‘Shredded’ (which I would advise everyone to read) exposed the horrendous goings on at RBS, there has been no major criminal case involving RBS bankers which would put Ian’s research in the spotlight and directly in full view of the Court of Public Opinion. Not so HBOS – we’re waiting for a major criminal trial to proceed and a major FCA review to be published. Additionally, there is at least one book taking a very candid look at HBOS waiting to come out and that is over and above the fact no one can doubt, after his years of blogging and articles, Ian Fraser is a font of knowledge about HBOS as well as RBS. Of course all concerned will abide by the rules of sub judice until the criminal trials are over but none of this will fit the criteria of “ did it reflect well on the Government, did it reflect well on the banks” Clearly not. So will the authorities ever allow HBOS to be fully exposed? Probably not.

And if that is the case, the only other place where much of the truth about the staggering misconduct in HBOS would come out, is in a High Court case when and if the Bank decide to re open our eviction hearings – although actually the stayed appeal is our case and we could also reopen it. Our defence in the eviction hearing is entirely based on what happened at HBOS Reading and the conduct of the management of HBOS and Lloyds after Reading was exposed.

So maybe the logic of the Bank and its high powered lawyers is to get our case out of the High Court where it could be as damaging as the criminal trials themselves? Or maybe our post this morning really was a case of a clerk having a tidy up? Who knows? Either way, Paul and I have learned a lot over the last 8 years and we will not be ignoring the Court letter.

I really, really hope that one day soon, someone, somewhere in authority, will decide enough is enough and bring about even a minor change of policy that starts reflecting the interests of the Country and its people over the interests of the Banks. I don’t think that someone will be David Cameron or George Osborne or Ed Miliband. All of this “first and foremost protect the banks” policy, started under New Labour and has progressed under the Conservatives. Sure, there are some really good cross party MPs or even Conservative or Labour MPs – but one swallow doesn’t make a summer and even a really good MP – my friend Clive May’s MP, David Hanson, is a very good example as is Brian Little’s MP, Jim Shannon – can’t change policy on his own.

Maybe Mark Carney who has said “no one is above the law”is the man for the job? And someone told me a while back that John Griffith-Jones is actually one of the good guys and I should talk to him – I would certainly like to and I would like to ask him for his comments on what Joanne has said. I would be so happy to see concrete evidence that actually the FCA considers “consumer protection” and “the reduction of financial crime” of equal importance to “market confidence.” But Joanne’s words make that hard to believe. Especially her comment when she was asked – if Wembley Stadium going up in flames equalled the credit crunch, how many fire engines would she say the FSA used to put the fire out? Her answer was:

….“there was probably a line of twenty people with teacups.”

That is very scary and we should all be aware the only outcome of this situation continuing is the next fire won’t be contained to a stadium.

Many thanks to both the Spaniard at White Rabbit Education and ‘Joanne’, for bringing this insight (or is it incite?) to our attention.

If you don’t identify the crimes or the criminals, you don’t have to support the victims.

There was an interesting article in the Guardian today on the subject of Lady Newlove’s report into the lack of support for victims of crime. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jan/27/victims-crime-let-down-criminal-justice-newlove I agree with her entirely – there is very little support. Equally interesting was the comments below the article.

For example, someone posted we are all more likely to be victims of financial crime than being mugged in the street. I would agree because PPI, IRHP, LIBOR rigging, asset theft (GRG) and various other fraudulent schemes, all have their victims – not that I am in anyway decrying the horrific consequences of violent crime.

However, there is a huge problem when it comes to financial crime. First and foremost, it is rarely classified as crime. It has various bogus titles and the most common is mis-selling. Also, financial crime is a political animal and as such, it seems to feel it is reasonable it should fall outside of the boundaries of common law. It shouldn’t do but it does. This is probably because any major case exposing the horrendous corruption in our financial system would have far reaching political and economic consequences. Not only would it risk serious ‘Brand protection’ to financial institutions, it would also damage UKPLC. Therefore even if you report serious and fully substantiated financial fraud to the police, you are unlikely to get an investigation – so you are unlikely to get a result.

Anyone challenging this view should consider why, when Banks are found guilty of money laundering for drug cartels, or of rigging LIBOR (which affects everyone), or of selling fraudulent products to consumers and SMEs, the answer is invariably a huge fine paid by the Bank shareholders? But no one goes to jail.

Occasionally and if you are incredibly persistent, the police will open an investigation into specific crimes by bankers or their associates in the financial system and, I can say from experience, that despite the initial euphoria victims may feel when this happens, what follows is a long drawn out process which gives little or no consideration to victims or to the consequences of those crimes. And while I adhere to the theory of “every man is innocent until proven guilty,” a justice system which takes years and years to bring cases to trial means that some victims, suffering badly from the effects of a crime, will have their lives on hold for an indefinite period. Some die before they ever see justice and that is a fact. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”(See below)

Take for example the case (which I won’t name for reasons of sub judice) where some 80 SMEs were first defrauded and then destroyed by employees and associates of a High Street bank. This was first exposed by the victims in 2007 but the police refused to investigate because the bank concerned assured them there was nothing to investigate. However, in 2010 and under the radar, a different police force did start an investigation. By the end of 2010 several people had been arrested but no one was charged until 2013. The trials for those people charged with assorted serious crimes were due to start in January this year but have now been put back to September and will finish in 2016 – if they happen at all. 2007 to 2016 is a long time to wait for justice. Three people have died while waiting.

The victims have lost their businesses, therefore their livelihoods and in many cases their family homes. They are all due compensation – but that won’t happen until after the trials as the management of the bank concerned are adamant no crime was committed (even although the Bank was the biggest loser of all) and the police have spent a fortune of public money on a witch hunt.

In the meantime there is little communication between the police and the victims except for the odd brief e-mail. The victims are dissuaded and even threatened not to attend any case management hearings – so they don’t know how the case is progressing (or not in this case) and if ‘victim support’ are aware of this crime, they haven’t acknowledged it. I know most of the victims – I don’t know any who have had any support.

The defendants on the other hand, are kept fully briefed by their legal teams (some of whom are paid for by legal aid), they continue to work or trade their businesses (which haven’t been destroyed) and some have requested and been given their passports back as and when they want to go on holiday abroad. Fair enough, they have not been found guilty as yet.

My point – most people in this Country are asking (quite reasonably) why bankers, who have already been found guilty of various crimes for which their shareholders have been penalised, have not been charged or gone to jail? I would say it is because the majority of the really serious crimes had to have happened with at least the knowledge and possibly the authorisation of those at the top of the Banks – not to mention key figures in associated ‘professional’ firms. But if Governments (via the justice system) start admitting our banks have been and are being run by criminals, it would destabilise our much loved financial system. So, even where a case does slip through the radar and bankers are charged with crimes, the main consideration seems to be how the authorities can limit contagion and, if possible, stop these trials actually going to Court. A valiant attempt was made to stop Operation Cotton and therefore other big financial fraud and VHCC (very high cost cases) from proceeding, via the legal aid débâcle. Fortunately it wasn’t successful.

And the victims? Well, better a few victims fall by the wayside than we tarnish the City of London. But actually it’s not a ‘few victims’ because we are all victims of financial crime and we are all paying the price (national austerity) while the charade goes on. And what a charade it is – after all that has happened and after banks brought world economies to their knees, top bankers demand and still get millions of pounds a year. And once a year they head off to Davos with the great and the good, to decide our economic future for the following 12 months. It’s not just illogical and unethical – it’s bonkers.

Great to see Lady Newlove has written a report and identified the lack of support for victims but, in the case of financial crime, which has reached epidemic proportions in the UK, the biggest hurdle to our justice system is a refusal to identify the criminals. Cost effective and sneaky but not democratic.

  • On the subject of “justice delayed is justice denied” and while I was looking for the origins of that quote, I randomly came across an extraordinary dark example of how this statement is sometimes abused by the very authorities we rely on for justice. The case is nothing to do with financial crime and the victim in the case is the accused. And this highlights yet again how important it is to democracy that justice is seen to be done and in a timely manner. I would say in too many cases, it isn’t. http://www.innocent.org.uk/cases/Karl%20Watson%20-%20Woffinden%20art.pdf

First the Banks – are EU Regs, MOSS VAT & HMRC also trying to kill off UK SMEs?

This is an unscheduled blog because this afternoon I read an article in the Telegraph about a proposed VAT reform which will literally kill off tens of thousands of SMEs. Here’s a link to the article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/11295953/How-the-EU-is-throttling-online-business-with-idiotic-VAT-reform.html In short, what it says is every SME will have to pay VAT on every digital transaction to EU Countries as of January next year and this will expand to physical transactions in 2016. Therefore, even an aspiring author or musician or photographer selling their ebooks, digital images or mp3s – and maybe with a turnover of £5-£10,000 per annum will have to register for VAT, charge it to their EU customers and submit a mountain of paperwork to HMRC. They will also have to register for UK VAT even although they are exempt and under the threshold.

This begs the question of why we are part of the EU when the adverse consequences seem to outweigh the benefits? And what benefits? Surely one of the biggest benefits was we are free to trade with all our EU partners? Here’s a blog from Andrus Ansip at the EU Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/ansip/blog/euvat_en

The first thing I noticed in the blog was this comment “The change in VAT rules was decided democratically, and after years of discussion, by EU Member States in 2008.” Democratically by who? Given it will affect SMEs so dramatically, I wonder how many SMEs were asked how they felt about it? And assuming it was a democratic process in EU terms, i.e the MEPs sat down over a nice lunch and agreed on this, how democratic were individual Governments and specifically ours, in asking if SMEs agreed? Personally I had no idea this was due to happen – maybe I just missed it? Admittedly I was very tied up exposing bank fraud in 2008 (another crippling tool to destroy SMEs) so I may have over looked it because I couldn’t trade my SME back then (or now). And, trailing through Goggle today, I have found plenty of news about this – although no front page news, so I have been asleep at the wheel but that doesn’t excuse the lunacy of it.

Why have the EU done this? Well according to Andrus, “ As I understand it, one of the aims was to establish a level-playing field for smaller companies. No more picking of low VAT countries by larger companies to gain a competitive advantage over SMEs.” Riggghht! This is to stop companies like Amazon exploiting tax loop holes by basing their digital content sales in Luxembourg. Fair enough, Amazon et.al will now have to pay millions in extra VAT payments. But does anyone really think they will absorb this cost? No. They will simply pass the cost on to the consumer. Not just the cost of the VAT but also the huge accountancy costs involved.

Andrus goes on to say “Now, some small and micro companies are worried about what the VAT changes coming on January 1 mean for them.” You bet they are. “Given that this change was adopted six years ago, Member States should have helped businesses to prepare.” Even if they had – what would that change?

Consider this: Joe Bloggs writes a book, turns it into an e-book and promotes and sells it via his own website. The e-book costs the buyer £2.00 + VAT for EU buyers. He sells 50 books in the UK – that’s OK he doesn’t have to charge VAT although he still has to be registered for VAT if he wants to sell in the EU. He sells 10 books in France, 15 in Germany, 5 in Italy and and 20 in Spain because his Aunty Mavis who lives in Benidorm persuades her friends to buy it. So that’s 100 books and 4 different VAT rates. There is apparently a “one stop shop” which will help with these varying VAT rates but I’m not sure how this works or, if I was Joe (and to an extent I am) whether I would want to take that route or just not sell to EU Countries.

Joe will have to do quarterly UK VAT returns even if he doesn’t charge VAT in the UK (he can just fill in 0 in all the boxes – so that’s not a waste of any one’s time!) and do separate VAT returns for his EU sales (no idea what happens with the rest of the world – is that still zero rated?). But because he does charge VAT for the EU he can deduct any expense relating to his EU sales from his overall VAT. And all this will be broken down and documented in the records of sales Joe must keep for years.

Now Joe, who is an excellent writer but not much of an accountant, could possibly struggle with the various rules and regulations he has to comply with – starting with, does he have to register at all or is what he does exempt? For example, these new rules don’t apply to: “supplies of goods, where the ordering and processing are electronic.”

But they do apply to: “images or text, such as photos, screensavers, e-books and other digitised documents e.g. pdf files, music, films and games…..”

I find that a bit confusing because ordering or processing an e-book is all done electronically isn’t it? So I looked at the section of the HMRC document entitled, “What is meant by electronically supplied?” and it explains: “This covers e-services which are automatically delivered over the internet, or an electronic network, where there is minimal or no human intervention. In practice, this means: Where the sale of the digital content is entirely automatic – for eg a customer clicks the ‘buy now’ button on a website and the: content downloads onto their device – customer receives an automated e-mail containing the content.”

So what part of a customer clicking “Buy Now” on your website and then receiving your e-book to download, isn’t covered in the above? Equally confusing is the section entitled “Examples of Electronic Supplies and Whether They Are Digital Services.” According to the chart, if Joe e-mails a pdf (his book) to someone, that is an E Service but it’s not covered by the new rules. However, if his pdf document is automatically e-mailed by the sellers (his) system or automatically downloaded from his site, then it is an E-Service and he does have to pay EU VAT to sell it in Europe. Hang on – didn’t it also say the new rules don’t apply to “supplies of goods, where the ordering and processing are electronic” or where the customer clicks the “buy now” and automatically downloads?

I won’t go through the rest of the document because I’m confused enough but here it is: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/revenue-and-customs-brief-46-2014-vat-rule-change-and-the-vat-mini-one-stop-shop-additional-guidance/revenue-and-customs-brief-46-2014-vat-rule-change-and-the-vat-mini-one-stop-shop-additional-guidance

I have a horrible feeling this EU VAT reform will be an absolute disaster for SMEs and it will either cause a lot to just stop trading or, it will cause them to stop bothering to be independent. What will be the point of Joe doing all this hard work (over and above writing his books) when the easiest option will be to sell it on Amazon in the first place and let them do the accountancy exercise? Yes Joe will get less money so Amazon can have a cut and his book will cost more because Amazon will pass on the EU VAT costs to the customers – but at least Joe won’t have a nervous breakdown doing a mountain of paperwork (which will no doubt result in massive fines if he gets it wrong) in order to sell 50 e-books to Europe. And there are 1000’s of Joe Bloggs in this Country who will do the same. I would even advise them to do so. So Amazon et.al could come out of this quite nicely.

Don’t get me wrong, I have two books on Amazon Kindle and it’s a very convenient site for writers. And ironically, I’ve had an e-mail this evening explaining the new charges anyone in Europe will have to pay for my books. But I am very aware small publishers will really struggle with this new system – the same as I would as a music publisher – which I was and would be but for HBOS.

End result? Whereas the internet gave millions of people and SMEs the opportunity to promote and sell their individual downloads all over the world – MOSS VAT + HMRC will now take that ability away. We will end up with half a dozen global platforms to sell digital or physical products across the Europe – and no doubt the world will follow. Sure they will have lots of subsidiaries but ultimately there will be a few Corporates running sales across the internet or to Europe.

The obvious solution was (and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work this out) – those digital traders or physical traders in the UK who sell in excess of the UK VAT exemption figure, should charge and, if applicable, pay VAT to the EU in the same way they do in the UK but at a flat rate agreed by the EU community to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

I would say to Mr Ansip, Mr Osborne and Mr Darling (who must have agreed this in the first place) that while MOSS VAT may bring in some cash from the big players avoiding tax, it will do them little harm and they’ll simply put prices up. But your new rules will be a disaster for SMEs, for the economy and for the morale of the Country.

For example, I know a young photographer who sells her images digitally and who has already considered the sad fact she will have to put a sign on her site saying – “Apologies, no sales to EU Countries.”

One might almost think our Government’s (present and past) are quite keen to see SMEs throw in the towel. First the banks and now this. What next?

And one last thought, why does Andrus Ansip say “As I understand it….” Surely this is an EU directive drafted in Brussels or Strasbourg wasn’t it? So he should know. Unless it was drafted elsewhere.

p.s If any accountant reading this can clarify what MOSS VAT really means to SMEs, please do post a reply or e-mail smealliance2014@gmail.com . I sincerely hope I have got this all wrong.