Tag Archives: bailouts

“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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The Village Of The Dammed – How Did We Get Here?

The other night I watched John Carpenter’s ‘Village Of The Dammed.’ I’ve seen it before and, much as I like John Carpenter films, I’m sure he would agree it is a bit dated (although the message is still very clear). But you know what it’s like when you get to that point of the evening, after an exasperating day, when you end up watching whatever happens to be on the TV but without making a conscience choice? Well that was me.

Some times I think nothing is random. As it turns out the film was actually so relevant to life in the 21st Century, it was even more scary now than when it was made. All the way through the film I kept thinking – this is where we are now. A very small minority has the ability to control and torture the majority. In that case it was a bunch of children sired by an alien life form. In our case it’s a bunch of bankers who don’t only have control over the people but also control over Governments. The same Governments who profess to work for the people because they were elected by the people – but, it would seem, are terrified of the banks.

It’s been interesting therefore to realise there is one species that considers itself superior to everyone – the so called Elite which includes bankers but also sharp practiser’s who are so wealthy they believe (and who would realistically question them) they are a cut above everything and even morality . Which is why Philip Green – the mega mogul who has been unbelievably successful in getting multi millions from banks can, it would seem, simply refuse to attend a hearing in front of a Parliamentary Committee if he doesn’t want to. Not only that, his terms for attending are so ludicrous (he requires the resignation of the Chair of the Committee) he knows they would never be adhered to – so he just won’t turn up and he’s off the hook. In a world full of sharks, there is always a bigger shark somewhere.

For anyone who doesn’t know who Philip Green is – he is the name behind a whole host of High Street stores like Top Shop, Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, Burtons etc. etc. and, of course BHS. BHS which went into administration recently causing the loss of 11,000 jobs and with a £500M plus deficit in the pensions fund.

I think it would take a team of forensic accountants a very long time to get a clear picture of Sir Phil’s business empire and I’m not sure it would be possible unless all those Countries participating in the ‘off shore accounts club’ were to reach a unilateral agreement on transparency. It’s more likely Boris and Dave would make up and form a new State with Putin as its leader.

So this is where we are:

Our banks are so big they cannot fail. Our Government is so afraid of offending financial services they have agreed to the terms of La La Land. We have laws but they don’t apply to everyone and in part because the majority of people can’t afford the process of accessing the Courts let alone applying the laws. Our regulators (should I add our honoured regulators) seem so biased towards their remit of ‘Market Confidence’, they’ve shelved ‘Consumer Protection’. Our auditors are so reliant on mega bucks from Corporations they wouldn’t say boo to a toxic goose even if it was about to suffocate every one in a thousand mile radius. And, to add insult to injury, we have people like Philip Green who has milked the banks (including banks bailed out by the tax payer), and is now demanding the resignation of the Chairman of a Parliamentary Commission because – well, what better way to get out of answering any questions about anything.

If MPs annoy him enough, I dare say he’ll be so miffed he’ll close down the whole kit and caboodle, sell up and retire to Monaco. Yes he might lose his Knighthood but does anyone really think he gives a rats arse about a title as opposed to the several hundred million pounds it would now cost him to keep it? And if he did pay to keep it, how honourable would that appear to be? It wouldn’t change what happened to BHS or the cavalier way 11,000+ have been treated. It would just mean a billionaire dropped a few hundred million to remain a Knight of the Realm. What value would that put on being a Knight Of The Realm?
None of it says much for the progression of Capitalism. Not that Socialism, Communism or Fascism have worked too well either. So where do we go from here? Have the so called ‘Elite’ won the day? Have we come so far a billionaire can take delivery of a multi million pound yacht while thousands of people lose their jobs and their hard earned pensions and there’s nothing anyone can do about it? Unfortunately I think the answer is yes. Legally Parliament has no power over perceived inequality and proving a legal case against a smart operator getting incredibly wealthy at the public expense, is a non starter. Morally, Parliament has every right to ask questions but legally (and it’s all about the law), what good can pointing out moral obligation do?

Many people have watched ‘The Big Short’ and many people have been shocked by it – but most people in SME Alliance won’t be. Most of them are living with the consequences of the laws of La La land. The members of SME Alliance are exasperated at the way in which bankers have trampled over our businesses and our lives and we have made a small but definitely recognisable protest. We’re not particularly brave at SME Alliance but so many of us have been put with our backs against the wall we have had to collectively object and come out fighting. I’m sure, to those running multi billion Corporations, be they banks or business empires, they feel we are no more than gnats trying to infiltrate a Rhinoceros hide. If the likes of Philip Green can brush off Parliamentary Committee’s in such a cavalier manner, it doesn’t hold out much hope for us lesser mortals. Or does it?

People power – when enough people recognise corruption and inequality is getting out of hand, the results, historically, have repeatedly been surprising. The EU Debate will be the best test of people power. Whether you’re IN or OUT, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the people running both shows just don’t know any more which way the public vote will swing. And that has been a wake up call for those who thought the public were neither here nor there in the debate. As it turns out, it wouldn’t even be easy to rig this vote because there are strong forces on both sides.

However, if we do come out of Europe and for many reasons I have always been for Brexit, I see no bright future for Britain while we remain entirely under the control of an elite minority who can’t even be called to account by Parliament. Staying in Europe or coming out will result in little change unless we re-instate democracy, morality and the law – and we’re a long way from that while the powers that be have no ability to ask questions, let alone hold people to account. Even if Philip Green does turn up and answer questions in front of the Parliamentary Committee and even if the Committee don’t like his answers, what can they do about it?

As it turns out, ‘The Village Of The Dammed’ is not as dated a concept as I thought.

When justice is delayed too long the Devil is dancing.

It’s very hard to write a rational, unemotional blog about the state of our financial system when I’ve just been to see a friend, who is a victim of bank fraud, who has been waiting for justice for over 10 years, and who is now dying of terminal cancer. But I’m going to try because too many people now are dying without ever seeing justice done. Perhaps just as bad, those they leave behind see little benefit to justice in the future because no amount of money or even bankers being jailed, can never bring back someone you love. There are some things money can’t buy.

I should add straight away that I’m not saying a bank caused my friend’s cancer – it didn’t. But years of stress, anguish, eviction hearings and trying to make ends meet will not have helped the situation. I’m not a doctor but it seems logical to me that the energy and willpower you need to try and fight of an evil disease like cancer and which should be your primary concern, is not aided when you have bailiffs at the door and a banks top lawyers trying to grind your chances of justice into the ground with legal technicalities and the ever promoted ‘costs’ threat.

That is a reality. When victims of bank misconduct are put with their backs against the wall, no one in authority says “hang on a minute, there’s a reason they can’t pay their Council tax or their bills”, they just go for the throat – which is why we have obscene programmes like ‘Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away.” Bankers on the other hand, faced with serious allegations that may see them facing fines or, God forbid, criminal charges, can rely on their fail safe – money. Shareholders money (in some cases tax payers money) to bail them out of difficult situations.

It’s only a month since the wife of one of the SME Alliance members died of a heart attack – and in that case I suspect the conduct of a bank was the root cause. When that happened it reminded me of an article I found years ago which was written as a result of research by Cambridge University academics, entitled “Can a Bank Crisis Break Your Heart?”: http://www.cam.ac.uk/news/can-a-bank-crisis-break-your-heart

Obviously a bank crisis and I would add bank policy, can break your heart but business, economic climate and political policy doesn’t seem very interested in the human cost of unethical or even criminal bankers conduct. I say bankers because, as always, I would remind everyone that despite legal terminology, a ‘bank’ is the sum of the people who run it. So I’m feeling pretty heart broken even although I’m not the person dying. Neither am I going to be the person most affected by living without my friend. Her husband and children are and even her parents (who can bear the thought of burying their child?).

Anyway, all this has just hammered me. I’ve found it hard to function in the last few days thinking my friend has a couple of weeks to live and there is no way I can do anything about it or even guarantee justice will be served when she’s gone.

I know it’s very non PC of me to talk about human tragedy and banking in the same breath – but tough. It’s about time we stopped pussy footing around what is happening. Above all else, I believe that as a society we should not let the interests of economics or globalisation over take our ability or even our wish to be decent human beings. Sadly, some people, whether because they are genuinely socio-paths or whether their terms of employment push them into that position, are losing site of their responsibilities as human beings.

Maybe they just don’t realise the consequences of their actions? Certainly many bankers and regulators seem willing to turn a blind eye to the reality of bad banking conduct – and this cavalier attitude to individuals is, ironically, doing good banking a huge disservice. Whereas it seemed totally unreasonable up until 2008 to suggest bankers were anything other than professional people and an essential part of society, in general the opposite applies now and the collective name for bankers is often derogatory regardless of whether they are perfectly good people or one of the acknowledged egomaniacs who have hit the headlines in recent years. No one bats an eye to “yet another banking scandal.” We have even become immune to them – right up to the moment they affect us personally. Right up to the moment a bank deliberately targets our business or repossesses our house. Right up to the moment we realise there is no defence against this immoral conduct.

I have been fighting for justice since 2007. I thought it would be easy and that, having identified a massive bank fraud, I could write to senior management of the bank concerned and they would be keen to investigate the matter and make sure any victims of the fraud were compensated and the villains persecuted. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Since then successive senior managements have gone out of their way to bury the fraud I identified and even persecute the victims – presumably in the belief attack is the best defence. But why would you attack your own clients for things your own staff did? I don’t know why but I do know at Board level that has been the banks’ preferred choice.

Nine years on I am still waiting for justice – and so is my friend. Except now justice will come too late. When she dies and she knows she will very soon, she will be the sixth victim to have died without seeing justice for this particular bank fraud.

Last summer one of my colleagues at SME Alliance and I went to a meeting with Head Counsel and Head of Litigation for a major bank. When our conversation turned to Private Criminal Prosecutions, the Head of Litigation became quite outraged and he said that we should realise that when we make criminal allegations we are ruining people’s lives. Even now I remain confused by this comment – does he seriously not realise how many lives his bank is ruining? Not just ruining lives but taking lives? Clearly the man was capable of having empathy towards others because he seemed genuinely concerned we would consider criminal proceedings against bankers. So how comes this same bank is notorious for its lack of empathy to its customers? Are they considered as a different species? Is this why the good old personal bank manager had to go – because he did empathise with his clients? Maybe he even liked them so the idea of selling them  ‘products of mass destruction’ would have have been distasteful to him?

In terms of banking reform I believe we are walking backwards. No one is properly regulating banks and no one is stopping the merry-go-round of greed and corruption which remains rife in our financial sector. On the other side of the fence, public anger is not dissipating and when one person dies one hundred people dig their heels in harder and want to see justice done. In the same way you can only beat a dog so many times before it will bite you, you can only break so many hearts before the consequences become equally dire.

I wish the senior management of banks would wake up to this fact. Justice has a way of being done despite all attempts to stop it and that includes the apparently well known judicial phrase “might over right.”

It is fortunate my friend is deeply religious and she has no doubt she will be going to a better place – neither do I doubt it, she is a good and kind person. The one sure thing we know about life is we we all leave it one day and the departure lounge for that journey doesn’t have a first class section or private jets – just a completely level playing field or “right over might.”

Now Is Not The Time To Stop Lobbying For Ethical Change.

I wrote this blog at the beginning of February this year but didn’t post it – I can’t remember why and I probably just got distracted by something to do with a bank! Anyway, today the article about George selling off Land Registry reminded me about this blog and why charitable or not for profit organisations like SME Alliance need to be lobbying more rather than less – and now we also need to lobby for the right to lobby!! If we don’t, I fear very soon freedom of speech itself will be threatened.

Happy Easter to all.

Nikki

Now Is Not The Time To Stop Anyone Lobbying For Ethical Change.

It seems the Government are closing yet another door to democracy. I find the announcement last week that charities cannot use State money (tax payers money) to lobby for any changes in the law, quite sinister and quite sneaky. Not least for charities who campaign for justice – of which there are many. I suspect funding from Government is quite minimal to such charities anyway but, whatever the amounts, it is likely to be diminished to any charity that dares to speak out against Government policy.

What I find so offensive about this new ruling is the fact that while Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, is right and this could result in charities, taking “a vow of silence”, it will also very definitely mean even less opposition or challenge to the mighty ‘lobbying machine’ of big business. It is already an inequitable situation because most charities are struggling for any kind of funding post the credit crunch and unlike big business, charities are not based on profits but on positive action for good causes. When charities lobby for a change in policy or law it is generally in reaction to what they have seen as the consequences of either ‘bad law’ or evolving necessities. When big business lobby’s, the goal is invariably market share, shareholder value, reduced regulation or, let’s face it, how to keep fat cats fat. And in far too many cases, ‘The Ministry of Revolving Doors’ means MPs or regulators have a keen interest in keeping big business happy.

I’m no expert in lobbying but, even a quick surf of the net shows just how important lobbying is. For example this simple explanation in the Guardian (March 2014) clarifies what lobbyists do:

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/12/lobbying-10-ways-corprations-influence-government

To a certain extent we are all aware of what lobbyists do and we’ve got used to the idea some companies believe (probably correctly) the best way to get results is to rely on the familiar maxims “you get what you pay for” and “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” If there is no other side to the coin i.e people lobbying for something just because it is fair, equitable and with no financial gain, then what we’re really doing is paving the way for important laws and policies to be swayed or decided on a ‘highest bidder wins’ basis.

What the Government is proposing is a curb on legitimate challenge by charitable organisations by restricting their ability to fund lobbying activities. This is rather like our inequitable two tier justice system whereby very few individuals or SMEs can ever challenge big business (especially banks) in the Courts because they have been priced out of the system.

I found an interesting article in the Bureau of Investigative Journalism about our Top 10 most powerful lobbyists – although the article does date back to 2012 and this list of names has probably changed by now:

https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/07/13/britains-10-most-powerful-finance-lobbyists/

Of particular interest to me was No.2 on the list, Anthony Browne, Chief Executive of the British Banking Association. This organisation is funded by its members – the banks – to the tune of £7,729,000 in subscriptions (2014) and no one can say Mr Browne hasn’t done a good job (from the bankers point of view). Recently we’ve seen; the review into banking culture cancelled; various reports delayed for so long it means they are now about as useful as wet loo roll; a complete u-turn on holding senior bankers responsible for what happens in their banks and; any number of deals brokered for banks to pay their way our of repeated misconduct against consumers, breaches of financial regulation or even criminal prosecutions. Even if Mr Browne has slipped down to 4 or 5 on the list, surely it is hugely important to maintain a serious opposition to the powerful banking lobby?

If I had to say which banks have been most damaging to the members of SME Alliance, I’d say RBS is top of the list, followed by Lloyds/HBOS. Both banks were bailed out for billions of pounds by the tax payer and they have both paid a fortune in fines or compensation for various examples of misconduct. Both have representation on the BBA Board:

https://www.bba.org.uk/about-us/bba-board/

And both are represented by one of the most powerful lobbyists in the Country (and Mr Browne is just one of many powerful lobbyists for the financial sector). So – tax payers bailed out these banks and they are able to use tax payers money to lobby at the highest levels of Government in the same way they have used tax payers money to pay their fines, fight their battles in the Courts and continue with their telephone number pay packets to their senior executives. But the charities who are busy mopping up the catastrophic austerity the banks were so instrumental in causing, cannot use tax payers money to lobby for change or reform in banking or anything else.

Why? Because, according to Cabinet Office Minister, Matthew Hancock “Taxpayers’ money must be spent on improving people’s lives and spreading opportunities, not wasted on the farce of Government lobbying Government.”:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-3434720/Charities-set-ban-using-Government-grants-lobbying.html

Yes, you have read that correctly – charities can’t spend tax payers money lobbying MPs for anything because the Government wants all charitable donations made on our behalf to be spent on making our lives better. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. I think Mr Hancock is relying on the logic of La La Land and his statement is wrong. As long as this Government continues to be happy for the Country to be run for the commercial gain of a minority, it is crucial tax payers money is spent on exposing such an undemocratic system and that charities have every opportunity to be as vociferous as possible about any and everything they identify as detrimental to society because of bad law, bad law enforcement or inequitable access to justice.

Reading the list of the top 10 most powerful lobbyists in Britain, I would say the financial sector is becoming a bit of a ‘lobbying cartel’ which doesn’t just have the ear of the Conservative party, it controls the whole head, arms, legs and torso. When the Conservatives were voted back into power, it seems the real victory was for ‘The City of London’ and now the ‘masters of the universe’ have found another way to make its ‘puppet’ limit any further opposition to its avaricious and anti social plans. What next I wonder? We’ve already seen the results powerful lobbying has on Government (all three of the main parties) – the most obvious being soft touch regulation of a corrupt financial sector that brought the whole country to its knees and has seen thousands of people relying on food banks. Now we’re going to see ‘the consequences of inequitable lobbying power.’ Maybe we should all order in a good stock of banana’s before the next insidious brain wave.

Ironically and without doubt this latest and dangerous lunacy has come about because of powerful lobbying. And the spin factor, that ‘it’s all for our own good’, is very offensive and implies this Government thinks we, the public, are all very stupid. Now is not a good time to stop Charities lobbying – it’s time we all started lobbying our MPs to take power back from big business before we really do become a Banana Republic.

Save The Bank, Call In The Diplomats! Really??? #RBS

IMG_5058aBefore SME Alliance was started, I would have been hard pressed to believe any bank could behave as badly as Bank of Scotland and its keeper Lloyds Banking Group. Now I’m pretty sure RBS could give HBOS/Lloyds a run for their money in the bad banking stakes. Not a day goes by without a new nightmare story about RBS or Nat West arriving in the SME Alliance in box. Which isn’t to say HBOS/Lloyds has been knocked off my top spot but is rather, a sad reflection of how systemic malpractice is in our banks.

Consequently I don’t know whether to be shocked by the news Jacob Rees-Mogg has asked UKFI to call in the troops to get RBS out of it’s £5BN fine from the US, or whether I think he has a point? From my own point of view it’s tough enough to get RBS to compensate the many UK firms it trashed in its GRG division or it has forced into bankruptcy with exorbitant exit fees for destructive products like IRHP. In fact it’s hard enough – in the face of indisputable evidence, to get them to admit black is black. Paying £5BN to the Americans will surely make it even tougher for UK victims of RBS to get compensation? And what about shareholder (taxpayer) value? We’re already reportedly going to lose £13BN on the sale of RBS – do we have to add £5BN to that figure?

On the other hand, as the US authorities have levied this penalty for the banks sub-prime activities, should RBS, yet again, get away with no penalty? God knows why (and he’s not telling) but apparently senior bankers can’t get prosecuted for the multi billion pound scams they over see, so would it be right to use diplomatic means to curtail the US ability to fine banks as well?

I think this is quite an extraordinary conversation reported in the Telegraph today:

(UKFI) “Are you saying to the Treasury they should use the government’s diplomatic efforts with our closest ally to avoid the British taxpayer being fined $8bn by the American taxpayer?”

(Mr RM)“If I were you, I would be saying, what is the British embassy for if it is not trying to get RBS off this fine? Our closest ally fining us $8bn is pretty stiff.”

There’s a spin and a half. This suddenly isn’t about the misconduct of RBS in America and the penalty they should pay. No, this is about American taxpayers trying to fleece British taxpayers! And if the Americans don’t want to go along with this so called justified diplomacy to get RBS off the hook, what next? Call in the tanks? Really?

Leaving the American issues to one side for a moment, yesterday an article in Reuters, suggested Ross McEwan may have to admit the GRG division of the bank actually did do what many of us have been screaming from the roof top for years – it has been deliberately ruining SMEs and taking (stealing) their assets. Apparently the FCA have “got something” which is a bit of a game changer and the forthcoming report will expose this – or some of it. And this news has come out now because? In my opinion I’d say it’s because the bank is preparing us for an announcement in the near future along the lines of:

we are shocked to discover that in certain instances the allegations made about the treatment of SMEs by the GRG division may potentially have some validity. As a result of the FCA investigation we now have enough evidence to show a small number of SMEs have indeed been poorly served by the bank and we will, of course, make enquiries into what happened in these cases with a view to contacting affected parties.”

Someone who spends a lot of time investigating what goes on in RBS told me a few days ago that, in the event all the outstanding issues RBS has with SMEs were to be addressed, the bill for proper compensation would be in the region of £40BN. Of course that’s not going to happen. If politicians are kicking off at the idea RBS have to pay the US £5BN, what are the chances this Government would allow the bank to pay UK SMEs eight times that? None. The Government may not have any full proof way to stop the US getting its money but they have all sorts of ways to make sure SMEs can’t get theirs. It’s a tall order for most SMEs to even get into a Court room to progress a claim let alone take on the bank’s mighty legal teams.

All the same, I know there are some very determined people out there and some big class actions in the pipe line. With such large losses looming, George Osborne must be worried about the share sale he is so determined to achieve. That’s without even considering the debate on whether or not he should be selling RBS in the first place. I know there’s many organisations and campaign groups who feel RBS should just be nationalised and then split up into smaller banks that would at least be of some use to society. I would agree except that we’ve already lost a fortune on this bank and nothing I have seen or heard in the past 6 months convinces me of anything other than the fact RBS is heading very fast into a brick wall.

Whether the bank is sold back into the commercial world or nationalised, the barrage of allegations and litigation heading its way is not going to stop. And some of the things coming have not even been mentioned yet – in fact I don’t even know if Ross McEwan is aware of what’s coming? I’m very sure the FCA doesn’t.

I suppose another option is if Jeremy Corbyn were to become Prime Minister – he might nationalise RBS, insist no shareholders got anything and no one could could litigate against the bank? But I can’t see that going down well with anyone and least of all the bankers who might then be asked to live on a normal wage.

So what should happen to RBS? Who knows? My husband thinks (and he even said it in a meeting at 10 Downing Street) the only way forward between the banks and the SME sector is a “truth and reconciliation” scenario. It would cost a lot for the banks to come clean and work out suitable compensation for the thousands of SMEs they’ve gratuitously ruined but, were such an agreement even vaguely possible, everyone, including the SMEs would have to take a reasonable and moderate approach. And the billions of pounds the banks would save on expensive lawyers, barrister and court fees would go a long way too righting wrongs, getting the SME sector back on it’s feet and re-establishing some trust.

#RBS to sell or not to sell – won’t make any difference to the fact this bank has backed itself, the Government and the Country into a corner. And no, Mr Rees-Mogg, the British embassy is not there to protect a British Bank from the consequences of its own misconduct. The tax payers didn’t ask for the opportunity to bail RBS out and become shareholders – it was a fait accompli. As such, one would have thought our own Government, regulator’s and justice system (not to mention UKFI) would have been keen to protect the public investment and stop our bankers behaving like bandits.

One last thing – Nick Gould and I had a great meeting this week at the Metro Bank with Peter Musumeci Jr, the right hand man of Vernon Hill. I’m not saying the Metro Bank is perfect and any SME owner could waltz in there tomorrow and get exactly what it wants. However, not only would I say the ethos of the Metro Bank is refreshingly different to our big banks, they also listen and wanted to know what are the key things the SME sector is looking for in a bank. Funnily enough, a lot of what we want is contained in the FCA Principle for Business, starting with principle 1. Integrity. Sadly integrity has been off the menu in some banks for so long I can only think some of our more illustrious bankers have forgotten what it means.

Photograph © Laura Maria Photography 2015

Maxwellisation? Enough already.

So first we had the so called ‘credit crunch’. Bankers all over the world, all paid telephone number fees, ran banks into the ground and brought various economies to their knees. Then we had the bailouts – Governments all over the world and not least the UK, decided the best way out of the ‘credit crunch’ was to give the banks billions of pounds, dollars, Euro’s, you name it, they gave it, to the banks to replace what they lost in their bizarre spending frenzy. And that resulted in mass austerity across the UK, Europe and the US – probably elsewhere as well but I’m not an expert.

Then came the clean up – or the apparent clean up. What happened to cause the credit crunch and how regulators and Governments could ensure we wouldn’t get a repeat performance anywhere in the near future? And how was this clean up done? Well that’s the latest page in the most bizarre story of the 21st century history book – we clean up by burying as much truth as possible and where we can’t – because the public are demanding explanations – we introduce Maxwellisation.

I’ve read various explanations of Maxwellisation and they make as much or even less sense to me as the fateful and long drawn out love affair on the Maxwell House advert. I don’t know what happened in the agonising and tragic story of a love affair that was almost but never quite fulfilled. I certainly don’t know what it had to do with coffee! And similarly I don’t understand how the exploits of Robert Maxwell – who apparently ripped off not just his own company but also pension funds – could be introduced as a legitimate way to stop the rightful exposure of wrong doing?

I may be mad but surely we’ve got it the wrong way around? If our regulators and their third party experts do in depth investigations into situations and come up with explanations, in the form of reports, which finally expose the truth, how can it be right that the people named and blamed in those explanations, can challenge the reports before they are released? Are we saying our ‘experts’ and our regulators may have got things completely wrong? Is it in the nature of ‘experts’ who spend years doing these reports at vast expense to the public, to get it completely wrong? Is that an equation our regulators start with? I don’t think so.

This is like an appeal in the justice system happening before the trial. So the crooks, let’s say for the sake of argument bank robbers, receive the prosecution case and, before a Judge or a jury gets to hear it, half of it is removed because the accused don’t like it or they don’t agree with it. Better still, the accused’s lawyers may be able to come up with legal technicalities as to why the allegations can’t even be made in the first place. So what the Judge or the jury finally get to hear is an edited version of events as permitted by the defendants. Wow, I can see that going down very well with the criminal fraternity. Not a luxury extended to Tom Hayes but surely one the magic circle lawyers will be insisting on for more senior bank management in the future.

As someone who has spent years of my life investigating bank fraud albeit from the perspective of someone who is actually in the rock & roll business, the one thing I know is ‘the written word doesn’t lie.’ Even if people have been deliberately writing lies, the culmination of a proper investigation will just highlight those lies and you will be grateful someone bothered to put the lies in writing as an example of fraud or corruption or, at the very least misconduct or negligence. For example – how could any bank relying on untold amounts of emergency funding from the Bank of England and then needing several billion pounds from the public purse, possibly pretend to investors that it’s a safe bet to plough money into a Rights Issue? But read this absolute twaddle from Andy Hornby back in 2008 http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-1631967/HBOS-chief-Hornby-defends-rights-issue.html and you’ll see that’s exactly what some of them did! Now what part of Maxwellisation can alter those facts?

Better still, let’s remind ourselves of exactly how the great and the good from HBOS and RBS were still trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes even after they’d been so instrumental in bringing the Country to the edge of the abyss: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmtreasy/uc144_vii/uc14402.htm

That’s a cracking read by the way.

I don’t know how anyone would do a comprehensive investigation into why we went into the Iraq war although logic would say the absence of the weapons of mass destruction, which were the reason for so many tragic deaths, raises some terrifying questions. But in the case or RBS or HBOS, it’s just not that complicated. If two music publishers can expose a massive fraud in HBOS and if certain members of SME Alliance are supplying the Times with evidence of massive issues in RBS, how can the FCA and their ‘experts’ be so endlessly challenged on their findings? The whole thing smacks of the dreaded ‘D’ word – deals. Deals to hide what really happened in our banking sector. Deals to protect the so called great and the good. Deals which, rather than give the public some sort of closure on what happened and show who was responsible, will just ensure the same or worse happens in the future.

There is no point in Maxwellisation – it’s apparently not a legal requirement and all it is doing is staving off the inevitable. If either of these banking reports ends up as another whitewash, there’s a whole army of people out there who will challenge them. Journalists, whistle blowers, small organisations like SME Alliance, Move Your Money and Bully Banks – not to mention various forthcoming trials (criminal & civil) which will shed more light on the reality. Clearly, if the FCA keep delaying their reports or if they allow the truth to be watered down, others will happily set the record straight.

I would say, from a public perception, Maxwellisation should really be called Orwellisation. We are continually walking backwards to Orwell’s views of 1984. The important difference is, there was no social media in Orwell’s world. No twitter or Facebook or Linked In. And unless the powers that be can wipe out the world wide web, Maxwellisation is actually and ultimately just like the coffee advert – long, drawn out and a fantasy. We’ve had enough fantasy when it comes to real people’s lives. Just like the cream always goes to the top of the coffee,  the truth, as Hillsborough has shown us, also has an amazing way of coming out on top and Maxwellisation won’t change it.

Surely the public have been on the receiving end of too much abuse from bankers without this latest trickery? Let’s just get on with it please, let’s publish these reports and stop all this nonsense. As a very good friend of mine would say – enough already!

Can anyone save Greece and, while we’re at it, can we also save Mozzarella from EU lunacy?

Having lived in Italy both pre and post the European Union, I’m surprised this EU marriage of assorted incompatible countries, which was definitely not a marriage made in heaven, has lasted this long. Historically, European Governments (and certainly in Mediterranean countries) have had enormous difficulty in efficiently running their own economies – so the idea that a central Government, run by bureaucrats from innocuous offices in Brussels could manage them all, was always a Panglossian scenario doomed to end up with one country or another or several ending up in the stew.

I don’t doubt there was some good intention behind forming the European Union. Open borders, one currency, easy trading – but it was always tenuous. We live on an Island and our only neighbours are Scotland (and that’s going well!!) Wales and Ireland and even those relationships are littered with dissent and the demand for independence. All the same, we just about manage to stay together under the heading of Great Britain and we have done for many years. But the relationship between the Italians, French, Germans and the Spanish (to name but a few European neighbours) prior to the EU, was frequently as collaborative and friendly as rival Pitbulls. The idea that Europe would unite and merge cultural and economic identities under one banner and one rule was always quite extraordinary.

Neither was it properly considered. Due diligence would have told anyone we are so culturally diverse in Europe, any collective rule book would have been as useful as a manual on aerospace technology for three year olds. The idea that Greece or Italy (for example) would conform to the same rules as Germany or France was just daft. I lived on the Italian French border for many years and the difference between Ventimiglia and Menton (about 5 miles distance) was so enormous it was just like entering a different country – because it was! What part of signing membership to the EU changed that scenario?

In my opinion the EU was never about what was best for people and always about what was best for the financial sector. And sooner or later it was always going to become impossible for voters in any country to have confidence in a system designed solely to feed the banks to the detriment of all else.

If the IMF decide in their wisdom to lay the blame entirely with the Greek people for this crisis, then I suggest they will find find they have a similar crisis with Spain and Italy (for starters) in the very near future. Even if (as the media would have us believe) Greeks really are the laziest and least trustworthy people in Europe – by whose standards are we judging them? By German standards? Are we saying Greeks are different to the Germans or the French and therefore they must change? Do the Greeks want to be like the Germans or the French? Or do they just want to be Greeks? Was the Greek economy on a sure footing before they joined the EU?

Ah but, I can hear people saying, in that case, they shouldn’t have joined Europe and borrowed so much money which they can’t pay back. And who engineered that situation? And who monitored it? Surely the top economists rounding up European countries for membership had some inkling that Greece was not economically stable – so how exactly did they qualify? As anyone in business (and especially the banking sector) knows, numbers on a page can be rearranged to tell a hundred different stories to a hundred different readers and someone obviously did some exceptional fantasy accounting for Greece. And who ever was regulating these figures somehow failed to notice two and two was never adding up to four.

Some might say it’s rather like the mess RBS or HBOS/Lloyds got themselves into which went (apparently) completely under the radar of the UK regulators. While the bank bosses were telling the world and his wife they were absolutely solvent, the truth of the matter was always bound to come out – they were completely broke and deeply in debt. Of course what happened there was the UK tax payer bailed the banks out even although it caused mass austerity. To add insult to injury, in the UK we continued to plough our banks and our top bankers with money and we refused (unlike Iceland) to hold anyone responsible for the catastrophe the banks caused. We even kept the obscene bonus system going.

Banks across the world were falling like nine pins during the so called ‘credit crunch’ and in the majority of cases the big banks were bailed out because they were “too big to fail.” Countries, it seems, are not. Fair enough – so Greece first and who is next?

The Greeks got themselves into this mess and now they can get themselves out of it is the attitude of the EU leaders. Although I can’t help feeling that the biggest offence Greece has committed against the EU has been to suggest it won’t be dictated to. How dare they tell EU leaders they won’t meekly submit their people to years and years of austerity and misery while they concentrate on pouring every possible Euro they can into paying off a debt that, realistically, is beyond repayment without some write offs? There has been a definite issue of ‘face saving’ here and the EUs big bosses have not taken kindly to the idea that the Greek people could have a say in economic affairs they clearly know nothing about! How many times do the ‘people’ have to be told “leave politics to the grown ups!” Hmmn – I think what they really mean is “leave politics to the bankers” who, as we all know, must continue to be paid millions of pounds for a job well done!

But Greece isn’t the only country in financial turmoil. And obviously the biggest issue with letting the Greek people have a say in their future is (God forbid) other economically badly behaved Europeans may follow suit. Worse still, when the European elite have finished blaming all the people of Europe, they may have to wake up to the fact the people of Europe are getting restless and some of them no longer care what a bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels think. If the EU was run so well and regulated so well, why isn’t it an overwhelming success? Could it be the so called credit crunch was the fly in the ointment? Could it be the financial sector has had a big hand in this problem? Could it be that the big banks like Goldman Sachs (busy doing God’s work) just saw Europe and its populations as a delicious example of cannon fodder? And especially countries like Greece. Sun, sea, chaos, corruption, no taxes – did the EU not know that was the deal with Greece? Did they think people joining the EU and the Euro would automatically abandon their Mediterranean heritage get into straight lines?

Culture with all its good points and its failings is still the very thing that make Europe unique. A host of countries with a completely different way of life dating back hundreds of years. If you wanted to go to somewhere very well organised with fantastic motorways and possibly an over fondness for pork, you went to Germany. If you wanted to go somewhere where life is very laid back, prone to siestas and fiesta’s and with very good fresh fish, you went to Greece or Italy or Spain. You changed your money and deliberately set off to visit somewhere completely different to your own country with different shops, food, habits, architecture and lifestyle. What was wrong with that?

Clearly something was because we now have a system where EU countries must now conform to a bland similarity based on nonsense rules that are totally open to abuse. And apparently some abuse the rules more than others – well there’s a surprise. But I wonder who are the greatest abusers in a decade where corruption is so wide spread? You can get it anywhere these days but some nations hide it better than others and some are better at managing it. Take the UK? Some would call it the money laundering centre of the world – but in EU negotiation terms, butter wouldn’t melt. In my opinion, turning Europe into a franchise of one big corporation like MacDonald’s was never going to work. You were always going to end up with hamburgers containing snails, garlic, anchovies, sardines, sauerkraut and “don’t worry, I make lamb.” Bankers may have thought all European countries would perform unilaterally if they all had the same currency – they couldn’t have been more wrong.

Europeans are ultimately all Nationalists – even the Brits, look at the somersaults the UK Government did to keep Scotland British. You can’t tell Greek or Italian or, heaven help us, the French or German people how to live. You can try and bribe their Governments with grants and loans and swaps, and it all goes swimmingly while there’s plenty of money to dole out. But when the coffers in one country run dry and other richer countries start imposing such harsh austerity people risk losing their shirts, is it surprising we all start remembering we’re individual nations again?

We don’t have the Euro in the UK and that is our saving grace. Love him or hate him David Cameron does put the British point across in his negotiations with Europe and they have to listen. Despite our internal conflicts (Scotland, the power the banks have, austerity blocking justice) we do at least have our own currency and therefore a bigger hand in running our own economy – and even if it’s a mess, neither the Germans nor the French can dictate what’s best for us. Maybe the Greek leaders have realised (before the rest of Europe does) that the views of the people they rule are more important than the corporations who just think they’re so important. Maybe the Greek people just want their country, their dignity and their identity back. And whatever it costs them now, might be less than it costs them (or other EU nations) in the future. Bankers, in the name of the EU, have run riot over Europe in a bulletless war for too long now. Maybe the Greeks are right to fight back?

One final example of why I believe the European Union is ultimately doomed. It’s a small example but it clearly shows the dangerous level of interference the EU wields over national heritage. Last Wednesday I was talking to a very good friend who lives in Ventimiglia. I used to live there and I remember the border coming down. So I was asking my friend how Ventimiglia was coping with the thousands of migrants stranded there because the French have now very definitely put the border back up so the immigrants can’t just wander over to Monte Carlo or St Tropez.

However my friend, who is a great foodie, was intent on telling me about the latest crack pot EU regulation. Check out this headline: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/11704323/Italy-EU-request-for-powdered-milk-in-mozzarella-is-attack-on-cultural-heritage.html

What meddling jobsworth came up with that idea? Is this really the kind of rule the EU was set up to introduce? Does anyone really want to be associated with such idiocy? Oh for the days of bent cucumbers, irregularly shaped tomatoes and interesting foreign currency.

I will keep praying for a miracle solution for the ordinary Greek people caught in the middle of these power struggles. Obviously, at this stage, only a miracle will suffice.