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Daily View: Banking reforms

Clare Spencer | 09:53 UK time, Thursday, 1 September 2011


Vince Cable


Commentators weigh in on the debate over banking reforms ahead of the Independent Commission on Banking's final recommendations, due on 12 September.

In the Guardian columnist Will Hutton says despite protests from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the government must stand its ground to avoid a second bailout:

"Sir John Vickers's Independent Commission on Banking is set to propose a two-pronged solution: as far as possible retail and commercial banking is to be ringfenced from investment banking, and all banking should carry a great deal more capital. In a submission I co-wrote to the commission, I argued that such ringfencing make lending to small and medium-sized enterprise relatively more attractive, and noted the mounting evidence that banks could be required to double their core capital to 17-20% without constraining - in normal conditions - their capacity to lend. This would make all western banks safer, lower their profits to more normal levels, and reduce bank bonuses."

Likewise, Conservative MP Jesse Norman berates the CBI in the Times for criticising potential reforms:

"It could be a huge force for good, fighting crony capitalism and promoting real, competitive, risky, entrepreneurial day's-work-for-a-day's-pay capitalism - the sort that will eventually get us out of this mess. Yet at the moment the CBI seems to prefer the interests of a few big companies and banks to those of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary businesses that make up its membership. Time for an overhaul."

But director of the think tank Policy Exchange Neil O'Brien argues in the Telegraph that while the debate between Vince Cable and the CBI have focused on the timing of reforms, the recommendation - to split up the banks' investment and retail sides - may not actually work:

"By separating their activities, both investment banks and retail banks become more risky. If you have both types of activity in one institution they are able to share risks. Put really simply, there will be times when the investment bank bit does well and the retail bank badly, and vice versa. They can lean on each other for support. By splitting them up, they lose the advantages of this natural diversification."

James Forsyth predicts in the Spectator that John Vickers' recommendations will not be welcomed by David Cameron, giving the prime minister a political dilemma:

"The bad news for Cameron and Osborne is that Vickers looks set to come down on the Lib Dem side of the argument. I understand that Numbers 10 and 11 expect him to propose 'draconian rules on ringfencing'. To make matters worse for them, Sir John has told officials that he'll publicly object if he thinks that his proposals are being watered down or kicked into the long grass...
"So, Cameron and Osborne have a decision to make: are they prepared to expend the political capital necessary to beat off Cable and Vickers? Looking like the bankers' friend is hardly an appealing political proposition at the moment. But if Cameron and Osborne let Vickers through, they could end up creating an even bigger economic headache for themselves in the medium term."

Meanwhile Steve Richards suggests in the Independent that bankers are still more unpopular than highly paid footballers, and predicts which politicians the public will side with:

"The final recommendations of the Vickers report next month will define more rigidly what banks can and cannot do. Vince Cable is a keen advocate of sweeping change. George Osborne plays for time. But the fans are already whistling to bring the banking saga to some form of cathartic resolution and are on Cable's side."

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