Tag Archives: HM Treasury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. I’ve never had a reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But will it be? Big question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#SME Alliance – giving SMEs a voice. #nooneisabovethelaw

SMEalliance up and running

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

We have a company .

We have a domain name smealliance.org.

We have a logo (to be unveiled next week)

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

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

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

We have media interest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update re: meeting of SMEalliance 24th September 2014

09/09/14

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

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

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

Best

Nikki

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

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

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

smealliance2014@gmail.com

Alternatively you can confirm by commenting on this blog.

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

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

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

Look forward to hearing from everyone.

Best

Nikki

 

Following on from yesterday’s Indy article about the HBOS Rights Issue, can we at least stop subsidising fraudulent conduct in banks?

Tom Harper’s excellent article questioning whether or not investors were given key financial facts regarding the HBOS Rights Issue in 2008, provoked some serious outrage on the ‘Twittersphere’ yesterday – and quite rightly so. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/hbos-accused-of-misleading-the-public-over-4bn-rescue-9701791.html

I don’t suppose the Government, Lloyds, the Regulator or the BoE will be happy with that line of investigation. Not least because it opens the door to a whole torrent of questions about how many other transactions, involving state subsidised banks, have been less than transparent?

And perhaps the biggest question will be – was the information in the Lloyds/HBOS Merger proposal, as accurate and transparent as it should have been?

I am sure Lloyds bank will say the HBOS Rights Issue was nothing to do with them as it pre-dated the merger. But in order for the Merger Proposal to be correct, it should have contained watertight data about the financial state of HBOS – which, reading Tom’s article, I’m not sure it could have? I’ve looked at the Proposal and it relies on financial accounts for HBOS and Lloyds TSB dating back to 2005 – although conveniently, it only relies on unaudited accounts for HBOS in 2008. Not that it makes much difference because, sadly and to add weight to yesterdays article, the Big 4 auditors appear to have been equally confused as to the solvency of the banks despite the audited accounts, as shown in another excellent article by Ian Fraser, November 2010: http://www.ianfraser.org/connolly-i-do-believe-that-auditors-performed-well/

What I find really upsetting about all this was brought home this morning by an article from the Positive Money site (following up on an article by Jill Treanor in the Guardian). The article dates back to December 2013 and explains, in very clear and simple terms, how banks continue to be subsidised and why. https://www.positivemoney.org/2013/12/uk-banks-benefited-38bn-big-fail-state-subsidy/ And of course, if we are still subsidising the part state owned banks – we are also subsidising bankers’ bonuses – which, considering neither Lloyds nor HBOS have managed to comply with the terms and conditions of the 2008 bailouts, seems entirely unjust not to mention bonkers. In a letter I received from the Treasury dated 15/05/09, Lloyds and HBOS agreed to meet the following terms:

A range of conditions are attached to the recapitalisation package. Lloyds TSB and HBOS have agreed that over the next three years they will maintain the availability and active marketing of competitively priced lending to homeowners and to small businesses at 2007 levels. They will also provide support for schemes to help people struggling with mortgage payments to stay in their homes and the expansion of financial capability initiatives. The remuneration of senior executives will follow strict guidelines – both for 2008 (when the Government expects no cash bonuses to be paid to board members) and for remuneration policy going forward (where incentives schemes will be reviewed and linked to long-term value creation, taking account of risk, and restricting the potential for “rewards for failure”). The Government will also be consulted on the appointment of new independent non-executive directors…”

Joining up all the dots, I begin to get a very clear picture of La La Land and it’s not pretty. As I am definitely a layman in these matters (albeit a fairly well informed one), I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my view of what’s happened over the last few years.

Round up of events in La La Land.

In 2008 and after exceptional spending sprees by both the banks and the public, the proverbial finally hit the fan and many banks ran out of money. The Government, terrified they’d have a repeat of the Northern Rock débâcle, gave the banks billions from the taxpayers’ coffers. As this resulted in mass austerity, the Government were loath to let anyone know exactly how bad a shape some of the banks were in (some were insolvent) and they certainly didn’t want the public to know the exact details of the billions being handed over, so they did their best to keep it all quiet. They (and the banks) even kept it quiet from the people being asked to invest in the banks via rights issues and/or sanction the HBOS-Lloyds merger, although they didn’t have to keep it quiet from institutional investors, because they were ‘in the know’ and had no intention of investing in insolvent banks.

The banks took the money but totally ignored the social responsibility that went with it (terms and conditions) in the same way they ignore little things like money laundering laws or Principle 1 of the FSA Principles of Business: A Firm must conduct its business with integrity. Actually I struggle to see how most banks comply with any of the FCA Principles: http://www.fca.org.uk/static/documents/handbook-releases/high-level-standards136.pdf Section 2.1

However, after the credit crunch the banks could no longer be seen to lend with reckless abandon (which was a bit annoying, as they rather liked basing bonuses on inflated loan books), so they invented other reckless and ingenious ways of making money – e.g crippling the SME sector and stealing assets. Best of all, having totally screwed up and taken everyone’s money, they came up with their most ingenious plan to date – they sold us all the simple concept that – if we didn’t allow bankers to keep taking bonuses, they’d walk away – and then we’d all be screwed. To make sure that dreadful day never comes, we continue to subsidise banks so they all live happily ever after.

That sounds like a pretty dark fairy story and the darkest bit is – it’s not a fairy story. So I hope somewhere, someone in authority (not mentioning any names Mr Tyrie) will have read Tom Harper’s articles, Ian Fraser’s articles and I’m hoping Max Keiser will invite Paul Moore back on the Keiser show to talk about the appalling behaviour of HBOS, Lloyds and other banks. Because, crazy as is it and despite all the rules, laws and regulators we have, I think our best chance of getting banking reform is to report bank misconduct to the media and then spread the word via Twitter? Of course, that could ultimately do enormous damage to some banks but I can see little alternative to this course of action. It’s a huge problem that while we definitely do have regulators, it seems La La land is out of their jurisdiction – which is the obvious reason they cannot do anything to penalise errant bankers.

*Here’s a thought – if we’re going to rely on journalists to clean up the banking world – maybe we should be paying our financial journalists (and their research teams) more and getting rid of regulators? We’d save a fortune and get some results.

Anyway, what upsets me most about all this is how we continue to let ourselves be mugged and my point is: If banks are intent on continuing to cheat their customers, destroy SMEs and refusing to compensate the people they defraud while insisting they still get huge bonuses – fine. It seems there’s little we can do about it. But can we please, please stop subsidising this conduct?

Ming the Merciless v Flash Gordon. What made Britain a ‘State of Anxiety’?

I very rarely watch films in bed – mostly because the television in my bedroom is ancient and prone to turning itself off half way through a film. Or you get the picture but no sound – very frustrating. However last Monday (Bank Holiday), with both daughters and granddaughter away and as it was bucketing down with rain, I ended up staying in bed to watch Flash Gordon and the TV, in charitable mode, actually worked. I’ve never watched this film all the way through and every now and then, I enjoy watching something deliciously ridiculous. So a pleasant morning.

But my mind always strays whatever film I’m watching and something Ming the Merciless said to Flash, made it stray again. Ming suggested he would like to have Flash on his side and he would give him an entire planet of his own where Flash could rule over everyone, in exchange for his loyalty. The planet was Earth and Ming confirmed he would do such terrible things to the planet prior to handing it over, Flash would not recognise the people on Earth. “You’ll make them slaves” Flash suggests? “Let’s just say they’ll be satisfied with less” Ming replies (that’s from memory, so don’t quote me but you get the gist).

It made me think of the relationship we earthlings have with our so called ‘Masters of the Universe’ in the financial sector. There was a time when we, as the customer, expected and even assumed the people running banks were decent, professional, ethical and even helpful people. Just like the people on the adverts and a bank manager was such a pillar of the establishment, he could even sign your passport. As for the CEO or Chairman of a bank? They were, quite naturally, beyond reproach.

Times have changed radically and, while I don’t suggest the majority of employee’s in the financial sector are intentionally bad people, most of us don’t bat an eyelid now even when we hear how banks (bankers) are laundering money for Mexican drug cartels, manipulating LIBOR or screwing their customers every which way. Worse than that, we seem to have accepted the ridiculous myth no-one is personally to blame for any criminal conduct in the banking world and senior bankers should still get bonuses for running what are, in some cases, organised crime syndicates. How did that happen? When did we accept becoming a banana republic?

One of the things we are possibly all agreed on – and even bankers – is how over extended credit was a major contributory factor to the credit crunch. People with low incomes were encouraged to take on mortgages they couldn’t afford; banks were issuing credit cards like they were ‘Smarties’; businesses were getting massive loans and; even students with no incomes were offered big overdrafts. Of course no one had to accept any of these loans but, in a consumer society where “credit is good for the economy” was the motto of the day and, as the rise in house prices became totally out of sync with what people earned, many people did. And while some of the public pushed themselves to the absolute maximum in the borrowing stakes, the banks, who based their bonus structures on loans, went even further.

Then the crunch came and suddenly the huge and fundamental difference between the people (who the banks had willingly lent money to) and the banks, became horribly transparent. The banks got all or most of the money they lost back from the taxpayer (the people) on the grounds they would re-float the economy – which they didn’t do. Meanwhile the people had no one to bail them out and, almost overnight, this situation was exacerbated when the banks started aggressively demanding back the money they’d lent consumers. It was a double whammy – the credit crunch caused mass austerity on the one hand (cuts in every aspect of public funding except MPs and bankers’ wages) and, on the other hand, not only did future credit dry up, the terms for existing credit were harshly altered – although the terms and conditions which enabled this were always in the small print, tucked away discreetly for a rainy day.

I’m not talking about PPI or LIBOR or IRSA or even major bank frauds here – just how the basic principles of the bank / consumer relationship, changed. The banks, who were so eager to extend credit one day, were demanding it back with menaces the next. And the methods they’ve used over the last 6 years are often akin to those used by the playground bully. Here’s a couple of examples:

Bank of Scotland has been ordered to compensate a customer for harassment after it made an astonishing 547 calls to recover a debt. http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/banking/2013/07/bullying-bank-ordered-to-pay-up-for-harassing-customer-know-your-rights

‘You have 24 hours’: Devastating tape reveals how RBS accused of bullying warned struggling chain of chemists it could call in the administrators http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2516063/Tape-reveals-RBS-warned-chain-chemists-administrators.html#ixzz3BaDHrbWr 

(Sorry – the above link, is temporarily not working)

Every bad thing about banks got horribly worse after the historic events of October 2008 when Gordon (Brown that is, not Flash) and his chums created a completely different pecking order in the country he was supposedly running as a democracy. And sadly, I have to conclude the end result has caused Britain to be a ‘State of Anxiety.’

Fear has always been an efficient if immoral tool to control large numbers of people. People who are frightened tend not to ‘rock the boat.’ Most of us don’t have grandiose ambitions and it’s the idea of losing the simple basics in life we’ve worked hard for, that cause the greatest fear. Therefore, regardless of how bad the game has become, we keep playing it. We don’t worry about getting run over by a bus because we don’t think it will ever happen. We don’t worry a meteorite will smash into earth and we’ll be obliterated because we know there’s nothing we could do about it. But the idea of losing your family home for instance, is a situation that cripples people with fear. I know because I’ve been through 22 eviction hearings. My particular case, or cases, were complicated and I can’t go into detail because of Operation Hornet and sub judice. But whatever the reason anyone is staring eviction in the face, the sickening fear of it becoming a reality, is always the same. It’s debilitating and crushing.

So paying your mortgage to keep your house is a number one priority which means, at all costs, you must keep your job (even if you hate your job because the new corporate order means you are asked to do things you feel are morally unacceptable). Paying that mortgage to the bank is definitely going to keep you playing the game.

But what happens if you lose your job because your employer was one of the thousands of SME owners who have been sent to the wall (administration or liquidation) by the banks who have unethically demanded long term loans be paid back overnight? Or if you worked for an SME that was a creditor of a company forced into administration which has, as a consequence, then hit the wall itself? What happens if, through no fault of your own, there is no job to pay the mortgage?

In those instances it’s an amazingly short scenario to the really basic problem of things like food. Benefits are few and far between these days (cutting those on benefits also cuts the numbers of unemployed). Who would have believed hundreds of thousands of people in Britain would have to rely on food banks? How frightening is it when you have to rely on charity to feed your family? And it happened so quickly – austerity, job losses, benefit cuts and food banks.

I could go on – electricity, travel costs, school fees, health care, old age with inadequate pensions…. what it all adds up to is anxiety and fear for a lot of people. And when people live with fear, just keeping your head above water is a priority. Questioning why you are in that situation becomes a secondary consideration – first you have to survive.

Meanwhile, the masters of the universe most responsible for where we are – what’s happened to them? In the majority of cases they have just continued to receive mega fees, bonuses and pension pots for failing with vigour. Should we feel sorry for the likes of James Crosby, who lost his knighthood and even had to forego a third of his six figure pension pot? I think most people don’t even care. Their own personal angst totally and reasonably excludes the bigger picture. Which is very convenient for those who do their best to make us forget how we got to where we are.

The comments from Ming the Merciless made me think – has the aftermath of the credit crunch brow beaten us all to the point we ‘except less’ and ‘accept the unacceptable’? Is this why we don’t shout and scream when shareholders (including the taxpayer), who’ve already lost a fortune in banks like HBOS, RBS and Lloyds, see millions of pounds being paid in fines for criminal conduct in banks as opposed to holding CEOs and Chairmen to account for what happens on their watch? Is this why we unbelievably seem to accept one law for the masses and one for the elite? Much as I hate the very idea, I think that may well be the case and I even wrote to David Cameron asking for him for some clarification on this point:

Dear Mr Cameron,

I and many other people were stunned by the quotes from the chief executive-designate of the Prudential Regulation Authority, which were reported in the Daily Telegraph yesterday (December 14th, 2012).

Mr Bailey seems to have confirmed that, irrespective of their criminal actions, banks are not only “too big to fail”; they are also “too big to prosecute”. In an interview with the Telegraph, Mr Bailey said that prosecuting banks and by implication their executive and non-executive directors,

would be a very destabilising issue. It’s another version of too important to fail. Because of the confidence issue with banks, a major criminal indictment, which we haven’t seen and I’m not saying we are going to see… this is not an ordinary criminal indictment.”

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 ……..

…..If justice is indeed now a ‘private members’ club’, then it is to up to you, Mr Cameron, to explain this to the British public. And, as I am sure you are aware, there is a real danger that the country will descend into lawlessness if the law is unevenly applied and enforced. If you really intend proceeding down the path seemingly advocated by Mr Bailey, then you risk going down in history as the Prime Minister who did more than any other to undermine the legitimacy of the British state……

http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

I have never had a reply to my letter and the lack of reply speaks volumes.

My point: Has the so called ‘credit crunch’ worked out badly for everyone? Or has it enabled some very sinister aspects of society to come to the forefront and control us all via economic fear? I think that is exactly what’s happened. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Here’s the definition of that saying from the Cambridge Dictionaries on line: “said to emphasize that the person who is paying someone to do something can decide how it should be done”

There is no doubt the banks can afford to pay the piper – and how crazy is it our elected representatives gave the banks that money from the public purse? They gave the banks so much money, it seems even Governments can no longer call up a good tune these days.

Of course, in the film (and the comics), Flash Gordon never gives in to the likes of Ming. He risks everything to save the world. I can’t help feeling our modern day equivalents, who endlessly profess to be fighting for the greater good (especially running up to elections), have gone completely off track – and they only ever seem to save the inhabitants of La La land – which is a very small island somewhere between the Cayman Islands and Monte Carlo. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for capitalism – who doesn’t want to be rich? I lived in a Communist Country for two years and it was like – well actually it was similar to what we have in Britain now – some very wealthy and very arrogant people suppressing the rights of ordinary people. We have the same kind of lunacy now masquerading as democracy. If it was just happening in a cartoon or a film, I would maybe call it deliciously ridiculous. In real life, it’s not the least bit entertaining and it’s very disturbing. And not least because the authorities we all thought we could rely on (after all we vote for them), are the very people who are allowing this absurd situation to continue. Where will it end?

BTW, you may remember, at the end of the Flash Gordon film, a random hand reaches out and takes the ‘all powerful’ ring Ming wore. Clearly Ming wasn’t really dead and was just biding his time before having another go at world domination (there’s always one). I am reliably informed Ming the Merciless is currently residing in La La Land rent free, in exchange for doing a bit of consultancy work for the great and good.

Bank reform or tokenism? Rule No 1. “Don’t ever side with anybody against the family”.

I don’t particularly like August. It doesn’t mean holiday time for my family – it just means a month when Paul and I can make little progress towards ever having a holiday because everyone to do with the HBOS scam we’re determined to see exposed, is on holiday. Still, this year August has at least given me some quiet time to continue with my book, which is going well. I can even say I’m enjoying writing it now even although it is taking me back over some very dark times including 22 eviction hearings because, for HBOS/LBG, screwing my business wasn’t enough and they wanted my home as well.

I’ve put as much humour as possible into the book because, as in the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ story, I can see that what people really enjoy knowing about, is the excesses and madness of the banking world. They want to be entertained and disgusted at the same time – which is maybe why the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is a rather one sided story or ‘romp’ that focused entirely on events in ‘La La Land’ but totally ignored the effects banking or bankers have had on the rest of the world. All the same, the film was entertaining and, let’s face it, some of us might give bankers a bit more latitude if they looked like Leonardo de Caprio. But it also made me worry and contrary to what I have previously considered possible, I’m beginning to think maybe bankers are indeed starting to achieve Mafia status? We can’t control what they do but we can make great films about them. Well, if that’s the way we’re going, let’s do it – I have just the script. Although casting could be a bit of an issue with our Britbank villains.

However, there is one overwhelmingly depressing thing that really pains me while I’m writing the book about my own experience with banks and bankers – over the last 7 years and despite bucket loads of rhetoric from Governments, regulators and the endless committees who have, apparently, investigated the causes of the ‘credit crunch’, nothing has changed. Nothing at all. And that’s bad.

I have this horrible gut feeling that, while everyone, including bankers, insist that what we all want is a better banking system devoid of excessive risk, dodgy derivatives and dubious standards, actually, what the banking world really want is to carry on with “business as usual.” In reality, what’s happening now is an even bigger whitewash than all those we’ve already had. While the headlines insist bankers are about to get their comeuppance and even the SFO are threatening to investigate bank malpractice, behind the scenes and very casually, the right people are being put into the right places to make sure the cracks in the walls get a new round of sticky plaster. The ‘revolving door’ is quietly turning again. But moving the chairs around on the Titanic, didn’t do any good after the last credit crunch and moving the same chairs again, won’t stop another crash. Yet again, we have senior bankers acting as regulators – it doesn’t work.

For example, looking back many people, including me, would say HBOS, in the years running up to the credit crunch, became an absolute basket case of a bank. With hindsight even PCoBS, the TSC and the Regulator, would have to agree. Point 137 (page 44) from the PCoBS report into HBOS (HBOS – An Accident Waiting To Happen. April 2013) concludes under the heading of “Conclusion – a manual for bad banking”:

The downfall of HBOS provides a cautionary tale. In many ways, the history of HBOS provides a manual of bad banking which should be read alongside accounts of previous bank failures for the future leaders of banks, and their future regulators, who think they know better or that next time it will be different. We will ourselves seek to draw further lessons from the case of HBOS as we frame recommendations for the future in our final Report. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201213/jtselect/jtpcbs/144/144.pdf

You can take your pick of damning extracts from the FSA Bank of Scotland Public Censure Report (March 2012) but I think point 4.14 explains a lot about the seemingly star struck Exec’s of BoS and their ‘risky’ management:

In relation to large leveraged transactions, these deals involved lending over £75 million or a substantial equity investment which meant they had to be sanctioned by the Executive Credit Committee. There was a significant increase in the volume and complexity of deals that this committee approved during 2006 and 2007. There were 199 approvals of lending in excess of £75 million in 2006 (which represented total

lending of £56 billion), which increased to 361 such approvals in 2007 (which represented total lending of £96.2 billion). There were 56 approvals of lending over £250 million in 2006 (which represented total lending of £36.2 billion), which increased to 110 such approvals in 2007 (which represented total lending of £64 billion. The size of these transactions meant that any default would have a high impact on the book http://www.fsa.gov.uk/static/pubs/final/bankofscotlandplc.pdf

I’m interested in that extract because it confirms how the excessive loans to companies like Corporate Jet Services Ltd http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exclusive-the-cameron-crony-the-private-jet-company-and-a-crash-landing-that-cost-taxpayers-100m-9350090.html had to have been authorised by very senior people in the Bank and not, as LBG would have us believe, by a regional bank manager. But in truth, it wasn’t just BoS that was running amok – it was the whole of HBOS. But the FSA didn’t censor HBOS and maybe because the CEO of HBOS held a senior position in the FSA ?

I remember having a conversation with Bill Sillett (the named respondent for any queries about the Censure Report) who visited Paul and I in April 2012. I asked him back then why the Report only covered the period from 2006 to 2008 when I know for a fact HBOS was acting like a fruit loop from at least 2002. Here’s his reply, taken from my notes of the meeting 11th April 2012:

BS spoke briefly about the time scales of the FSA report and why they chose the period 2006 to 2008. He said Crosby was effectively out of the bank in that period. He said they chose that narrow remit because going back further could have involved another year of work.

I think “Crosby was effectively out of the Bank in that period” is highly significant. Obviously, had the report highlighted poor management of BoS when Crosby was the CEO of HBOS (parent of BoS), it would have caused a few red faces for the FSA. But what I still find amazing is – Mr Crosby may have come out of the Bank in 2006 but, from November 2007, he went from being a Director of the FSA to Deputy Chairman – and that was in the same period when HBOS was already under heavy scrutiny by the Bank of England. And even when the proverbial hit the fan in October 2008 and HBOS got the secret £25.4BN, apparently no one in the Tripartite Authority felt it was inappropriate for Sir James, as he was then, to continue on as the Deputy Chair of the Authority most responsible for regulating banks!

I make the point in my book:

Aside from the fact the people advising the Bank of England on how to cope with various banks losing hundreds of billions of pounds were predominantly bankers (from commercial banks), I’m very confused by the fact Gordon’s chum, Sir James Crosby (now plain old Mr Crosby), the former CEO of HBOS until mid 2006, managed to retain his position of Deputy Chairman of the FSA right through the credit crunch, the bailouts and beyond? Did Gordon Brown realise the FSA were supposed to monitor the Banks so that such disasters couldn’t happen? Had he even heard of the FSA I wonder? (NEXT PASSAGE REDACTED)……..

…..So why did JC keep his position with the regulator? Possibly it was so his friends in high places, like Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, who appointed him to oversee Government projects, wouldn’t get egg on their faces. In 2006 Gordon appointed JC to lead a ‘Public, Private Forum’ on Identity theft and in April 2008 Alistair Darling appointed him to advise the Government on how to “improve the functioning of the mortgage markets.” And then, of course, there was his knighthood in July 2006 for services to the financial industry.

Oh well, water under the bridge now and Sir James did eventually resign from the FSA in February 2009 when the allegations made by Paul Moore in 2004, could no longer be ignored. Although according to both the FSA and James Crosby, his departure was nothing to do with Paul Moore. Here’s a statement from La La land, as reported by the BBC 11th February 2009:

Sir James said in his statement that HBOS had “extensively investigated” Mr Moore’s allegations, concluding that they “had no merit”. Mr Moore was the former head of risk at HBOS.

“I nonetheless feel that the right course of action for the FSA is for me to resign from the FSA board, which I do with immediate effect,” Sir James added.

The FSA said: “[The] specific allegations made by Paul Moore in December 2004 regarding the regulatory risk function at HBOS were fully investigated by KPMG and the FSA, which concluded that the changes made by HBOS were appropriate.”

“It should also be noted that the FSA’s concerns about HBOS’ risk management framework considerably pre-dated the allegations by Mr Moore,” the FSA said in a statement.

Excuse me? The FSA’s concerns about HBOS pre-dated Paul Moore’s allegations and – what did they do about it? They made the CEO of HBOS a Director of the FSA in January 2004 and then promoted him to Deputy Chair. Confused – you should be.

Here’s the point – as at today’s date, the Chairman of the FCA, which took over from the FSA, is now John Griffith-Jones, who held the position of Chairman of KPMG at the time Mr Moore made his allegations and who must have sanctioned the report refuting those allegations. And, because, some would say that in the corporate world at least, “incest is best”, KPMG were also the auditors of HBOS at the time they prepared the report. I share the concerns of Ian Fraser – none of us should be reassured when the financial industry is so keen to ‘Keep it in the family.’ In June 2012, Ian wrote:

I was surprised and exasperated to learn last week that chancellor George Osborne has rubber-stamped the appointment of John Griffith-Jones, the senior partner of KPMG, as chairman-designate of the Financial Conduct Authority, one of the two financial regulators that will take over from the soon-to-be-disbanded FSA. As the news of this “revolving door”,“poacher-turned-gamekeeper” appointment sank in, my disappointment bordered on outrage.

http://www.ianfraser.org/financial-regulation-with-griffith-jones-appointment-britain-keeps-it-in-the-family/

I was equally outraged Ian – and I begin to wonder what kind of ‘family’ the big banks and their auditors belong to? The Corleone family?

Meanwhile, over at the FRC, Sir Win Bischoff, former Chairman of Lloyds Banking Group (the parent of HBOS), has taken the post of Chairman while simultaneously becoming the Chair of a division of JP Morgan. You could not make it up!

I put up some details the other day about the history of the great and good on the Board of the PRA. http://spandaviablog.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/sir-win-bischoff-chairman-of-the-frc-and-also-a-chairman-of-jp-morgan-the-revolving-door-to-la-la-land-is-spinning-off-its-hinges/

Question: in the same way I sincerely doubt Sir James Crosby (as he was) was ever seriously going to let the FSA rumble the many and varied dodgy scenarios going on in HBOS while he was Deputy Chair, does anyone really believe John Griffith-Jones or Sir Win Bischoff are the right people to head up our regulators? Is Win Bischoff ever going to expose anything really bad that happened in Lloyds under his watch? Is Griffiths-Jones going to take action against KPMG or the HBOS audits under his watch. Is the forthcoming report into the failure of HBOS really going to highlight anything that would compromise those members of the ‘family’ who are still active?

Are we really on the road to reform in our banking sector – or have the powers that be, just made moved the chairs on the Titanic yet again and put the same established and reliable old foxes in place to guard the chicken coups? In my opinion, all this talk of reform is just tokenism.

I am fully aware the PRA are in the process of preparing the report on the failure of HBOS. I am also aware – as is Paul Moore – they fully intend to exclude issues that were fundamental to the Banks’ failure. Apparently, some of the really catastrophic or even criminal conduct in HBOS, is not considered relevant and consequently, is not part of the PRA remit. Yet again, they are not going against ‘the family.’

Interesting day – Ian Fraser, Tom Harper, Richard Brooks all aware of FRC conduct.

Interesting day of research (always for the book) and many thanks to Ian Fraser, Tom Harper and Richard Brooks, for pointing me in some interesting directions, especially with reference to my recent blogs.

I started my new blog site with some details about the HBOS rights issue and the Lloyds/HBOS Merger, which, after reading the BoE report on the ELA given to HBOS and RBS in 2008 does, regrettably, seem to have been a rather unfortunate ‘con’ (I just can’t find a more PC word for it) on the shareholders of Lloyds and HBOS and also on the tax payer. I can say that, in the circumstances, I fully appreciate the Tripartite Authorities were definitely ‘over a barrel’ at the time but, all the same, the losers, as always, were the little people. All of us little people who now live with such austere conditions, that hundreds of thousands of people in Britain now rely on food banks:

A food bank charity says it has handed out 913,000 food parcels in the last year, up from 347,000 the year before. The Trussell Trust said a third were given to repeat visitors but that there was a “shocking” 51% rise in clients to established food banks. It said benefit payment delays were the main cause. In a letter to ministers, more than 500 clergy say the increase is “terrible”. The government said there was no evidence of a link between welfare reforms and the use of food banks. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27032642

Paul has been out all day helping someone with a long running case against HBOS. When he came home, he asked if there were any interesting e-mail or tweets. I said Tom Harper tweeted me an article by Mark Kleinman about: The Chancellor has ruled out a sale of Lloyds shares to the public ahead of the next general election, Sky News can reveal.

I said to Paul (and I said on twitter) I didn’t think this was wise. If I was the Chancellor, I would off load those shares asap. As always, Paul pointed out the folly of my logic. I have just posted a document suggesting the lack of transparency over the HBOS/RBS ELA and the HBOS-Lloyds issue was, potentially, out of order and maybe even fraudulent. Imagine – the Government sell the shares in Lloyds now and then, down the road (and before the election) a scandal – any scandal – breaks about criminal conduct by the senior management of Lloyds Bank or its sick puppy HBOS, that causes the share price of Lloyds Banking Group to drop just after thousands of people have bought shares? Add that to what has already happened. Catastrophe. It’s not impossible in my view.

I think Tom, like Paul, has considered this possibility but me? Well I was so deeply immersed in other research, I didn’t add 1 + 1 up. So well done Mr Osborne, you clearly are wiser than I thought.

Actually, what I was concentrating on was the FRC. Following on from my blog yesterday about the appointment, as Chairman, of Sir Win Bischoff, first to the FRC and then to JP Morgan Europe, ME and Asia, I received two interesting articles from Ian Fraser on the topic. One article was about the extraordinary way in which the FRC had dropped its investigation into BAE Systems (another favourite of mine – and Tom’s http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exclusive-the-cameron-crony-the-private-jet-company-and-a-crash-landing-that-cost-taxpayers-100m-9350090.html ) and the article also said:

The FRC has form when it comes to letting ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms — Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PWC — off the hook. On April 11th, The Times’s Alex Spence revealed that the Financial Reporting Council had decided against probing ‘Big Four’ firms’ pre-crash audits of UK banks, simply because it wanted an easy life.

There was a lack of will,” one well-placed insider told The Times. “There was a general reluctance to get into it. It would just be too disruptive, too damaging.

The FRC has yet to make clear whether it is going to bother to launch a specific probe of KPMG’s role as auditor of the disastrous UK bank HBOS in 2001-08. It is apparently sitting on its hands while it waits to see the outcome of the FSA’s whitewash report into the Edinburgh-based bank’s failure. http://www.ianfraser.org/britain-is-fast-turning-into-a-banana-republic-wilfully-blind-to-corruption/

The other article ian alerted me to was one he wrote for The Sunday Times. I can’t read it all because I can’t afford to subscribe (thanks HBOS/LBG) but I trust Ian enough to know it is entirely relevant to my issues about Sir Win and the FRC:

Sir Steve Robson, one of seven RBS non-executive directors to be purged last month, is facing calls to resign as non- executive director of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC).

If Robson remains in his post, critics suggest the FRC could lose credibility. At RBS he was partly responsible for one of the largest bank collapses in UK history.

“The whole civil service ethos is that Caesar’s wife is above reproach,” said Robert Bertram, a corporate lawyer with experience as a non-executive director of listed companies, who served as a member of the Competition Commission.

“Whether or not Robson, a very distinguished public servant, has made his own position untenable, it seems the FRC itself has made it untenable …..http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/business/article156107.ece

All serious food for thought from my point of view and the icing on the cake was an article Richard Brooks sent me from Private Eye:

(C) Private Eye

(C) Private Eye

So, an interesting and worrying day. I keep thinking I have discovered important and interesting information. But of course the real ‘investigative journalists’ – and ian, Tom and Richard are three of the best – already know a lot of what I’ve discovered, they’ve published it and, the powers that be have ignored it – so I’m in good company.

Last bit of interesting news I got from my research today, was from the website of 33 Chancery Lane, the Chambers of  John Black QC who is representing the Crown in the Operation Hornet case. Interestingly, while the CPS have not updated their version of events on their website, which refers to 8 defendants and losses of £35M in the Reading fraud, John Black QC has a more updated version:

Operation Hornet (2013-2014) – advising Attorney General, CPS and Thames Valley Police on prosecution of bankers at leading financial institution and other businessmen for corruption, money laundering and fraudulent trading. The forthcoming trials concern an alleged £245m fraud.

As I said, an interesting day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lloyds/HBOS shareholders – according to the Treasury, the merger was all down to you.

Following on from the last (and first) blog on my new site where I quoted the Bank of England’s explanation of the ELA support for HBOS and RBS, I would like to clarify the Treasury’s position – or at least the version I received. As I mentioned, the first payment of the ELA to HBOS was given on 1st October 2008 and peaked at £25.4BN on 13th November 2008. Like the rest of the population, I had no idea about this huge sum but I did know the situation with HBOS was extremely precarious by Oct 2008 and, in my view, some of the money it had lost was as a result of dubious or even criminal conduct. So, on the 6th October 2008, I wrote to Gordon Brown giving him chapter and verse about what Paul and I had uncovered and explaining why we felt the merger would potentially be a disaster.

On 20th October 2008 I received a reply from No 10 thanking me for my letter and saying: “Mr Brown felt pleased that you were able to write to him about your concerns, a careful note has been made of your comments. He has asked me to send a copy of your letter to HM Treasury as he feels it is important that they are made aware of your concerns and can send you any comments they may have. Yours Sincerely.”

The comments they had were, in the circumstances, less than transparent and not once did they mention the odd £25.4BN. But they did clarify the merger between HBOS and Lloyds TSB was, according to HM Treasury, entirely down to the shareholders of both Banks and therefore, nothing to do with Lloyds, HBOS nor the Government. So don’t go bleating or suing the Bank – it was all down to you guys! Here’s an extract from my book explaining the Treasury’s point of view:

“Back to Gordon and I’m guessing, also with hindsight, Mr Brown wishes he had just ignored my letter instead of asking his office to reply. In total I received three letters from No 10 and three letters from the Treasury, who apparently didn’t have any concerns about HBOS or the merger. In fact they didn’t even seem to realise it had happened and the first reply we got from the Treasury, dated February 2009, made reference to the ‘proposed merger’ expected to take place in January 2009:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding the merger between Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). We have received a large volume of enquiries in recent days and so are not able to provide a specific response to you at this time. I hope that the information below is helpful and answers the questions you raised.

The proposed merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS was announced on 18th September. Both Lloyds TSB and HBOS shareholders have voted in favour, and it is expected to take effect during January 2009 subject to the approval of the Scottish courts. HBOS shareholders will receive 0.605 Lloyds TSB shares for every HBOS share. The decision on the merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS was and remains a matter for shareholders.”

All things considered, it probably would have been better if the shareholders had reached their decisions retrospectively! Not least because responsibility for the merger seems to have been laid exclusively with them. On 16th March 2009, we received a second letter from the Treasury saying:

Thank you for your letter of 6th October 2008 to Mr Gordon Brown on the merger between Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). I am replying as Minister responsible for this policy area. I am sorry for the delay in responding to you.

Recapitalisation

On Monday 13th October, in implementing the measures announced on 8th October, the Chancellor announced that the Government would be underwriting capital investments for Royal Bank of Scotland and, on successful merger, for HBOS and Lloyds TSB.

A proposed merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS was announced on 18th September, and became effective on 16 January 2009 following shareholder and other approvals. The decision on the merger was a matter for the shareholders of both institutions. …”

On 15th May 09 we received a third letter from the Treasury which was basically a copy paste of the second letter – which was more or less a copy paste of the first letter but with corrected time scales. All three letters contained details of the HBOS recapitalisation – how much was being raised and from where. I’m not sure their explanations really clarified exactly how much money the Government was giving HBOS or Lloyds but, crucially, the letters failed to mention the small matter of the £25.4BN given to HBOS:

On 19th November, Lloyds TSB shareholders voted in favour of its merger with HBOS and approved plans to raise £5.5 billion by issuing £4.5 billion of new ordinary shares and £1 billion of special preference shares. In relation to the newly issued ordinary shares, the shares were made available for acquisition by existing Lloyds TSB shareholders. To the extent that such shares were not acquired by existing shareholders (or other third parties) the Treasury has done so. The Treasury has also subscribed for £1 billion of preference shares

On 12 December 2008, HBOS shareholders voted in favour of the merger. In the case of HBOS, £8.5billion of newly issued ordinary shares were made available for acquisition by existing HBOS shareholders. Again, to the extent that such shares were not acquired by existing shareholders (or other third parties) the Treasury has done so. The Treasury has also subscribed to £3billion of newly issued preference shares in the capital of HBOS.

A range of conditions are attached to the recapitalisation package. Lloyds TSB and HBOS have agreed that over the next three years they will maintain the availability and active marketing of competitively priced lending to homeowners and to small businesses at 2007 levels. They will also provide support for schemes to help people struggling with mortgage payments to stay in their homes and the expansion of financial capability initiatives. The remuneration of senior executives will follow strict guidelines – both for 2008 (when the Government expects no cash bonuses to be paid to board members) and for remuneration policy going forward (where incentives schemes will be reviewed and linked to long-term value creation, taking account of risk, and restricting the potential for “rewards for failure”). The Government will also be consulted on the appointment of new independent non-executive directors…” [End of book excerpt]

Make what you will of that but what I make of it is: the shareholders of HBOS and Lloyds are responsible for the merger; the new Bank will, on instruction from the Government, be enormously supportive to home owners and SMEs; bonuses will not be paid to Board members and; I’m a China man. We didn’t know what we were handing to HBOS (or RBS) back then and, as it turns out, the terms and conditions of the bailouts were a lot less realistic or memorable than the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not posting this because I’m a Conservative supporter. I don’t think Mr Cameron has been any more supportive to the taxpayer in the case of Public v Banks than Gordon Brown. At the end of the day “it’s all about the money” and let’s face it we, the taxpayers, don’t have any, we gave it all to the banks. So whoever we vote for we shouldn’t really be surprised when, whatever party wins the election next year, politicians continue to vote for the banks.