Category Archives: Scotland

“Ill Founded and Misconceived” versus 47 Years In jail. Updated #HBOS Reading

I am adding this update to the blog I wrote last February and just after Lynden Scourfield and five others were sent to jail. That was over six months ago.

I was fairly optimistic throughout March and April that the Bank were going to do the right thing and swiftly even although I should have realised at our meeting with the Bank in March, the quest for justice and compensation from the Bank was going to be a long haul.  At that meeting the Bank’s representative expected us (Paul and I) to accept the statement “it is a fact that prior to the trial the Bank had no evidence of criminality.” He said this (and repeated it several times) to the people who have been sending evidence of criminality to the senior management of LBG and their lawyers since the merger with HBOS happened. So the statement was clearly a blatant example of “false truth” or whatever the latest fashionable definition is for “a lie” and it was never going to wash with us. You can’t rewrite history just the same as you can’t lie to yourself even if your bosses can insist you lie to others.

The latest hiccups include: the Bank are not (contrary to their reports to the media) prepared to pay the ‘reasonable’ costs for the victims lawyers/advisers unless they give the Bank chapter and verse on what they are doing for their clients. As if??? As if the advisers will tell the Bank the private and confidential details of the work they’re doing with the victims. Then, if the Bank’s faceless panel make an unacceptable offer of compensation and the victim has to litigate, the bank already have all their information supplied by the advisers. Do the Banks lawyers really think we are all that stupid? And of course the more obvious point – if the bank won’t pay the lawyers/advisers for the victims and the victims can’t pay them, the victims could end up with no legal advice vs the Banks magic circle lawyers.

Another hiccup: some victims who didn’t have dealings directly with Scourfield of Dobson but were in any event destroyed by their lieutenants,  acting on Scourfield /Dobson’s orders, have been told by the Bank they are not considered as victims. The criteria is you have to have dealt directly with Scourfield, Dobson or Quayside. But believe me, some of those working for Scourfield really enjoyed their jobs and were every bit as ruthless and criminal as he was – but they didn’t get arrested. Maybe they will one day but in the mean time I hope the Bank stop the absurd pretence that victims of Scourfield/Dobson teams did not suffer.

Some might say optimism is an ill advised trait in this day and age.  Nevertheless I still think Lloyds will ultimately do the right thing – the question is when? They didn’t meet their target of 30th June to compensate the victims and I wonder if we or the media should have asked Mr Horta Osorio whether he actually meant the deadline of 30th June was June 2017 or 2018? But they will have to do the right thing sooner or later because the alternative would cast serious doubt on whether the Bank’s Chairman and CEO are ‘fit and proper people’ to be running a Bank.

At the end of the day, the Bank’s lawyers can plot all they like to delay or decrease the compensation thus increasing their own remuneration. But the blame for prolonging the misery of people who have already suffered unnecessarily for so many years (it was unnecessary because both HBOS and LBG were fully aware of the criminality years ago) will not be laid at the door of the lawyers –  the blame will go to Lord Blackwell and Antonio Horta-Osorio.  I hope their lawyers are not trying to persuade them that won’t happen because that would be another false truth and potentially a very costly one.

24th July 2017

 

What a week!

As many people reading this will know, on Thursday 2nd February the Judge in the HBOS Reading trial sentenced the five delusional Defendants who pleaded not guilty and the one Defendant who did plead guilty, to a total of 47 years in jail. I was in Court for some of the proceedings and I know many people who couldn’t attend will want to know how it went.

Paul and I didn’t get to Court until about 11.45. Partly because we had the BBC at our house by 6.30am to do Breakfast TV, which was quite an odd experience because we generally get interviewed by people who know a lot about the HBOS Reading fraud. So I kind of felt we and Steff McGovern were talking about different stories and I hope we have a chance to go back and explain it to Steff in more detail so we’re on the same page!

By the time we got to Court it was packed. So packed all you could do was stand by the door at the back of the Court. A lot of press were there as well as a lot of the victims and they were doing the mitigation pleas when we arrived. I went in and listened for 20 minutes and then had to leave. I had to leave because one Defendant’s QC was talking about the hardship it would cause his Client’s family should he be incarcerated! Another pointed out his client was over 60 and in ill health!!!

I always think anger is a dish served silently and after reflection but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could stay silent or reflective in light of these comments. The families of scores of people including mine, have been devastated for years because of these people. Many of the victims have been serving a prison sentence for years and so have their children. We’ve had businesses trashed, no livelihood, no way forward because this has taken so long to reach a criminal conviction and we’ve been living on the breadline. On top of that our reputations, our credit ratings and our dignity has been smashed (yes Nigel, I pinched that from your excellent piece on BBC News at 10!).

Meanwhile, some of the people in the dock have been living like kings and indulging in every possible luxury (not always the luxuries that are to everyone’s taste) on the back of what they stole from SMEs. I say ‘some people’ because there were various degrees of ability or desire to indulge and these have been reflected in the Judge’s excellent summing up and sentencing.

On the subject of not being sent down because someone is 60 and in ill health – I am now 61, my husband is now 65 and we would consider our health to have been destroyed except for the fact other victims have fared far worse – at least five victims are dead!

I decided not to listen any more and I joined Paul in the corridor. I’ve done my best to keep Paul out of the Court room since September 2016. As many of the SME Alliance members will know, he has a photographic memory and I believe he would have been severely agitated to hear some of the evidence from both sides of the case.

We weren’t sure if the sentences would actually happen in the afternoon but fortunately they did. Again I could only squeeze into the back of the room because it was overcrowded. It was also incredibly hot and I began to wonder if people might start to feint from the heat and stuffiness – and the tension.

All through this trial it has been incredibly difficult to hear what is being said and Thursday last week was no different. People coughing, blowing their noses, turning pages of note pads (I was horribly guilty of that), people shuffling in their chairs and the Judge talking very quietly because of appalling acoustics – it’s been a nightmare. But everyone was doing their best to be quiet and hear what the Judge was saying. I don’t have to repeat what he said because it is documented, has been repeatedly reported on and is on the SME Alliance Public Interest page. But you had to be there or maybe you had to attend the entire trial, to get the impact of the Judge’s speech.

More than the sentences the Defendants’ got, I was grateful for that speech. He really got it – he really knew who these people were. The greedy ones, the stupid ones and the evil ones. Judge Beddoe knew exactly who was who in this trial and what their role was or what their importance was. This was so important. A Judge, any Judge, has to remain impartial throughout a trial and although all the way through the trial Judge Beddoe repeatedly picked up on things others in the Court missed, he was always impartial. But clearly he knew who he was dealing with and his speech before sentencing made that very clear. I and others have noted throughout the trial, Judge Beddoe is an exceptionally intelligent man and we were lucky he took this case. I am pretty sure he, like Paul, has a photographic memory – thank God.

Even in the middle of the chaos all around and with people cheering in the Court at the result, I genuinely felt for the first time that all the hard work Paul and I have put into this for 10 years, has been worth it. Not because these Defendants who, let’s face it, are either damaged, delusional or sad people, have been sent down for so long – in lots of ways I think losing their assets, their reputations and their livelihoods (like their victims) would have been almost as damaging as prison – but because I can now start to believe after all this time, perhaps our justice system can work.

I know all the victims of HBOS Reading will be grateful to the Judge, the Jury (they were brilliant), Brian O’Neil QC (Brilliant) with his team and Thames Valley Police (especially Mick Murphy) and, as you can imagine, it was a fairly emotional moment when the Judge read out 15 years for Mills, 11 years 3 months for Scourfield, 10 years for Bancroft, 4 years 6 months for Dobson and 3 years 6 months for Mrs Mills and Cartwright. I imagine it was even more emotional for them.

It would be wrong to focus on the downside after such a result but sadly there is one. We, the victims, won a battle last Thursday, definitely the biggest one we’ve fought so far – keeping that trial on track and getting the result (Paul and I have had to win 22 court battles over the last ten years to keep our house). But we haven’t won the war. HBOS have known about this fraud since 2006. Lloyds TSB have known about it since at least 2007 while Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) have known about it and certainly at a very high level, after the merger with HBOS in 2009. Peter Cummings, Andy Hornby, Lord Stevenson, Sir Victor Blank, Eric Daniels, Sir Win Bischoff and Antonio Horta Osorio. They have persecuted us and other victims for years in the knowledge every allegation we have made was correct. Why? How? How could this have happened? And even now when six people have been sent to jail for over 47 years, LBG are still putting out bland obfuscation as soundbites instead of doing the right thing. What will the latest Chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, Lord Blackwell, do now?

What will Andrew Bailey, the CEO of the FCA, do now?

HBOS could have resolved this years ago – so could LBG. It would have cost peanuts compared to what it will cost after the criminal trial. There must be a reason the Banks didn’t do the right thing? Is all this denial just hubris? Or is this because the management feel obliged to continue with their denials in order to stop an even bigger scandal coming out?

I’ve called this blog “Ill-founded and Misconceived” because that’s what the Deputy Chairman of Denton Wilde Sapte said about our irrefutable evidence back in 2008. He wrote this in a letter to us on behalf of the Board of HBOS and after HBOS had done various investigations establishing the facts as documented in the criminal proceedings. I think the ex Board members may well regret leaving the letter writing to Mr McAlpine.

One last thing – much as I think he was always fighting a losing battle and he lost, I was very impressed by Mills’ Barrister Kieran Vaughn QC. So that’s two names for the record – Brian O’Neill QC and Kieran Vaughn QC – just saying.

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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.”

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.