Tag Archives: SMEs

“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.

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.”

Dear Sirs, this is hardly flattering. Please redact. #HBOS

IMG_3454I’m confused – for years now the FSA followed by the FCA have been looking into the conduct of HBOS. Whether or not he is considered good guy or bad guy, I know Hector Sants (who admittedly took some persuading) was eventually keen to get to the bottom of what had been going on in HBOS and he wasn’t in the mood for ‘cover up’ when he released the BoS Censure Report in March 2012. Not long after that he mysteriously went from being the golden boy tipped to take a top job at the Bank of England, to relative anonymity. Since then nothing has been heard about the Section 168 Report commenced in June 2010 specifically into HBOS Reading (probably because of the ever pending criminal trials due to start in January 2016) and the overall report into HBOS and its top management has been continually delayed.

Articles in the press yesterday seem to confirm that report will be out next month (October 2015). However, even now, after the endless delays and God knows how much spent in legal fees by the Bank (I imagine Lloyds has picked up the bill for Stevenson, Hornby, Cummings and Crosby – if he’s actually included) and the regulator, we have now been warned to expect redactions.

How does that work? The regulator does an in depth investigation into the catastrophic demise of HBOS and the people who were running the Bank don’t like the conclusions the FCA have reached – so they are able to have certain parts redacted. I’m not saying the report found anything criminal (although in my personal view I fail to see how it couldn’t have found some very shady conduct) but even in a civil court, could someone ask a Judge to redact the bits of evidence they don’t like? Imagine, “your honour, I don’t think the evidence before you puts me in a favourable light so I’d like that bit crossed out.” I would love to have any current photo taken of me photo shopped so I look thirty years younger but the truth is, I’m not. These possible redactions are similarly trying to change history – and it can’t be done. Neither should anyone countenance attempts to do so.

I have been told (repeatedly) that the FCA has quite extraordinary powers, should it care to use them. I know the powers of the FSA were split between the FCA and the PRA but all the same, how can top bankers or their legal teams, oblige the regulator to redact the findings of its own report? It makes no sense. Neither does the sharp ‘Harp’ exit of Mr Wheatley make sense. I find the whole thing very concerning. Rumour (or the media) has it, Mr Wheatley was too ‘consumer friendly’ and this did not fit in with Mr Osborne’s plans to make sure the City Of London retains pride of place in the financial world. Which is a bit odd because lately, even the BBC has been portraying the Square Mile as something akin to the Guild of Thieves from the Disk World.

Therefore, what worries me is this: if Mr Wheatley had to go because he wasn’t banker friendly enough, how can we expect Mr Osborne to allow a full, frank portrayal of what went on at HBOS?

Although various MPs and, I think, the TSC have demanded to see any redacted passages, how can other people, who have first hand experience of what was going on at HBOS, ever challenge what they will never see? I do know what some of the information and evidence the PRA received to contribute to this report was, as I sent some, as did Paul Moore. We didn’t send it randomly in the hope someone would read it, we were in direct contact with the PRA and the Bank of England via the Governor and we know they all received and read our evidence. Consequently we have our own views on what the FCA Report should include. It’s not a pretty picture and I have often wondered how the bankers concerned would refute this evidence? Well obviously, if the contentious or nasty bits of the report are redacted, they won’t have to!

Redaction has been a big issue with SME Alliance recently. Members sending Direct Access Requests (DSAR) to get their information from their own central files in banks (mostly RBS) have received such varied replies, we’ve asked both RBS and the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to clarify exactly what members should expect to get. The answers so far have been as clear as mud but it is pretty clear no one should be getting entire pages redacted. Neither should anyone be getting information that has been manipulated or tampered with (that’s another story coming soon). We are struggling to get to the bottom of Section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 and a definitive interpretation. But I’m not sure Section 7 of the DPA was ever intended as a barrier to regulators publishing reports on banks or bankers! Neither was Maxwellisation and the remarkable Re-Maxwellisation meant to be used as a means of delay or ‘cover up.’ These are clearly new techniques invented by the very clever (and well paid) lawyers of La La Land – but that doesn’t mean we or the regulators should blithely accept them.

My other concern is that while this report may actually be more candid than others before it (I’m remembering the 1 page press release fiasco from Lord Turner about RBS http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmtreasy/640/640.pdf ), it will be written in such a way as to minimise any potential legal actions against Lloyds Banking Group who merged with HBOS. Contagion is a huge issue for the banks and I’m sure the emphasis of this report will be on “this is what HBOS did but Lloyds were totally unaware of any of this.” Which begs the question (again) – why would Lloyds go ahead with such a critical merger without knowing chapter and verse of what they were getting involved with? Money laundering rules being what they are these days (or profess to be), banks need so much information to open an account, I’m waiting for “what colour knickers are you wearing” to be added to the list of KYC questions. So it is inconceivable Lloyds had inadequate detail about their new partner. And, in my opinion, Lloyds didn’t just merge with HBOS, they’ve done a pretty good job at morphing into the same sort of unethical and unattractive organisation.

Last thing – I know many victims of HBOS have waited years now for some sort of closure. The criminal trials regarding HBOS Reading have taken years to happen (if they ever do) and the various reports on HBOS have been endlessly delayed and now (probably) redacted. While I don’t suppose the ex management of HBOS have been quite as cavalier about the FCA report as they were about running the bank, I very much doubt if any of them have suffered anything like the hardship the banks’ victims have. Some of us have had our businesses ruined and our lives on hold for many years. Not to mention the many people who lost their savings and their retirement plans via the disastrous way HBOS was run. So I really hope, regardless of the HMT’s desire to hang on to its golden goose (that many of us feel is actually a dead duck), that when the HBOS Report does finally come out, it is as honest as harsh and as damning as it should be. Hector left us with the BoS Censure Report – before Mr Wheatley left, let’s hope he finished the job and, for once, let the blame fall where it’s due.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that could be a big vote winner.

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

SME Alliance meetings at EMM Law and Metro Bank. A really brilliant day!

IMG_8976Yesterday was a double whammy for SME Alliance – we had a morning meeting sponsored by EMM law http://www.emmlegal.com/meet-the-lawyers/kate-mcmahon/ on the subject of Private Criminal prosecutions and an afternoon meeting sponsored by the Metro Bank. I didn’t attend the morning meeting (no room at the inn) so I can’t say a lot except we’ve had some really good feedback and we’d like to thank Kate McMahon and her team at Edmonds Marshall McMahon for their hospitality and for explaining how the process of Private Criminal Prosecutions works. Hopefully Andy Keats, who set the meeting up for us, will blog about it in the very near future.

The afternoon meeting at the Metro bank also went brilliantly. Derek Granville, our host, was our first speaker and he explained both the ethos of the Metro bank and the way they work. Two things in particular were music to the ears of our members. First – they don’t want to sell you financial products. So no PPI, no swaps and no other dodgy, so called, insurance. Secondly the Metro Bank is completely deposit funded and there is no wholesale funding. So they are not reliant on the ‘money market.’ Sophie took loads of notes of the whole meeting and we will post all the main points Derek made as soon as she has typed her notes up. But I can say a lot of us were very impressed with what Metro bank has to offer and it does seem like they are bringing back old fashioned banking where you know who you’re dealing with and what you’re dealing with.

IMG_9015Our second speaker was Andrew Hilderbrand http://gunnercooke.com/team/andrew-hildebrand/ who is a mediator. And whereas the word ‘mediation’ means an alternative form of bank bullying to some of our members, Andrew very eloquently put the case for positive mediation. As many members pointed out, it’s not always the case you can get a bank to consider positive mediation as they’re used to having everything on their terms. However, tying this in with our report to Andrea Leadsom where we suggested ‘FOS Plus’ would require banks and clients to ‘mediate’ early on in the process of dispute resolution, Andrew’s brand of very successful mediation would work very well. Will blog in more detail soon – or better still I’ll ask Andrew to blog.

Our last speaker was Lindsay Whitelaw from Urica. This company offers a very different type of factoring. I have never thought much about factoring except when people call to talk about Bibby (which they often do) but what Urica is offering sounds very different and very positive. The difference with ordinary factoring is Urica requires no personal guarantees and only checks the credit worthiness of the creditor. Anyone who uses factoring services should check Urica out: https://urica.com/ As their website says – “It’s not invoice discounting because that’s just debt by another name.” So it’s an interesting concept and a very new business model.

IMG_8990

Overall it was a great meeting with many new faces including people I’ve been talking to for years about HBOS, Lloyds, bank fraud, SME issues, but I’ve never met. And both Jon and Nick invited some interesting guests. But as always it was really great to see all of our founder members there. I know some people came from Scotland, Wales, the West Country and the North of England. Thank you all for making the effort to travel so far to join us. And thanks also to the two new members who felt it was so positive they have offered to sponsor us.

I will blog again over Easter in more detail but, if I don’t get another blog out before Easter Friday, Happy Easter to all and many thanks for your support. Who would have thought we could achieve so much in such a short time???

p.s I don’t know what time everyone left the Shakespeare’s Head where networking was still going strong when the Turner crew left about 7.00pm but I’m guessing Weatherspoons like SME Alliance!

Guest Blog – A Letter to Shareholders in Lloyds Banking Group plc

25th March 2015

Dear Fellow Shareholder

Corporate Jet Services Limited/Corporate Jet Realisations Limited (in Liquidation) (“CJR”)

Sycamore Limited is a small shareholder, previously in Halifax Bank of Scotland plc (“HBOS”), and now in Lloyds Banking Group plc (“Lloyds”). We urge you to join us in demanding an agenda item at the next available General Meeting to give an account of the CJR affair and to explain what the current board will now do to make good the damage to shareholders’ interests past and present which it has caused.

That damage was firstly the loss of some £150 million of shareholders’ money by what it is extremely difficult to see as other than a fraud which has never been explained; followed by a toxic culture of denial and cover up which has persisted ever since. Lloyds knows the facts but it is not telling. You may have read something about Corporate Jet Services in the press or on the internet but Lloyds has maintained a lofty silence. We have written to our Chairman, Lord Blackwell several times but he does not reply and he brushed aside a shareholder’s question at the last AGM.

If we want our bank to be soundly profitable, to deal fairly with its customers, to promote honest business practice and to pay maintainable dividends – in short to make a clean break with the past some truth and reconciliation is required. The bank must also pursue those responsible for CJR and who have benefitted from it within and beyond the Bank, for restitution of the millions they have misappropriated.

The history of CJR was short but disastrous for shareholders. In 2003 HBOS set up what was effectively a secret subsidiary company, lent it £12.8 million secured on executive jets worth about £8 million and equity capital of £2,500; and proceeded to pump money through it until it was shut down in September 2007 by PricewaterhouseCoopers as Administrative Receivers at a cost to the Bank’s shareholders of about £150million. That company was CJR and it banked with the High Risk Unit in Reading. Tellingly, the Bank paid off all third party creditors and sold the good bits of CJR to the management team for a song, presumably as a thank you for their skillful services rendered. After 2004 by which time it owed the bank
£28 million CJR produced no statutory financial statements, in blatant breach of Company Law, so there is no public record at all of where most of the money went. Lloyds will not even tell the Liquidator of CJR and has threatened us with legal action if we support him in his requirement for that information. Certainly it appears that much of the money went to the Isle of Man and some was used to fund the purchase of two luxury motor yachts. The Bank’s official line, in so far as it has one, maintained by Lloyds to this day, was that CJR was the result of some overenthusiastic lending by a manager in the High Risk Unit in Reading
and that none of the lost money is recoverable. Admittedly, HBOS probably did regard £150 million of shareholders’ money as peanuts. It raised £4billion in a rights issue shortly afterwards in 2008 and secretly borrowed £25 billion from the taxpayer to keep itself afloat. Nobody felt that needed mentioning to the shareholders of Lloyds when they voted on the merger in 2009, so why would they mention a mere £150 million?

We believe that the CJR affair goes to the heart of the HBOS and now Lloyds banking culture. You may think that you deserve an explanation. Lloyds does not. Nor does the public shareholder, UK Financial Investments, which still holds nearly 25% of Lloyds and could singlehandedly get CJR on the agenda, but has told us that the matter has nothing to do with them. Neither it seems do the authorities think that you deserve an explanation. In fact it appears that everybody involved with Lloyds has long known about CJR except the ordinary shareholders. We believe that shareholders are entitled to a full explanation, a heartfelt
apology, action to recover the money, and real cultural change.

The key questions are;
1 Where has the money gone?;
2 Who approved the CJR “lending”?;
3 Who else knew about it?;
4 Who has benefitted from that money?;
5 Will Lloyds now take disciplinary action against those directors and employees responsible for CJR and the cover up?;
6 Will Lloyds now pursue for compensation the individuals responsible, whether inside or outside the Bank, without fear or favour?

Please send an email and/or write as follows in your registered name and address as a shareholder to:
Malcolm.Wood@lloydsbanking.com
Malcolm Wood, Group Company Secretary,
Lloyds Banking Group plc
25 Gresham Street
London EC2V 7HN

I/we as a shareholder in Lloyds Banking Group plc (“LBG”) request that the following be
included as an agenda item at the next available General Meeting of the Company, being a
matter which ought to be explained in the interests of the shareholders:

“An explanation of the Company’s involvement in the affairs of Corporate Jet Realisations
Limited (in Liquidation) Company number 04521080”
I/we hold (number of shares registered in your name) shares [this is optional but preferable – see note (i) below]
Registered Name of shareholder:………………………………………..

PLEASE NOTE that according to the Company Secretary:
(i) To be accepted, the request must be submitted by members holding at least 5% of the issued share capital of Lloyds Banking Group plc or by at least 100 members holding at least 1,000 shares each (£100 worth of 10p nominal value shares).
(ii) the request must be received at least six weeks before the AGM or, if later, by the time the notice of the AGM is given.

As of 22nd March the notice of the 2015 AGM has not yet been issued. Given that the 2015 AGM is to be held on 14th May to ensure that your request is accepted for the AGM it should be submitted before 2nd April 2015.

Make your voice count. You may also like to ask your MP to raise this matter with the government and with UKFI.

So that we may check that the threshold for acceptance has been reached please email a copy of your request to:
mpage@sycamore.aero
Yours sincerely
Sycamore Limited
Michael Page
mpage@sycamore.aero

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