Banking reforms 'may not happen until 2015'


Vince Cable: "I'm more conscious of the areas of agreement"

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Any shake-up of British banks may not come into force for several years, government sources have indicated.

Although legislation could be passed to "split up" leading banks before 2015's scheduled general election, changes may not take effect until after that date.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has said changes will go ahead and denied any splits with the Tories on the issue.

The CBI said taking action now could starve businesses of the capital they needed and damage the recovery.

But Mr Cable said that suggestion was "disingenuous in the extreme" and accused bankers of "trying to create a panic about something they know has got to happen".

Ensuring taxpayers are not liable for any future losses or bank collapses, and ring-fencing banks' retail operations, are among the proposals.

'Press ahead'

The Independent Commission on Banking's final recommendations are due on 12 September.

In its interim report published in April, the commission - chaired by former Bank of England chief economist John Vickers - recommended ring-fencing banks' retail operations from their investment banking arms.


However anxious ministers may be to ensure taxpayers never again have to foot the bill for bailing out stricken banks - they are in no rush to press ahead with any plans for them to be "split up".

The reason? They appear to have been convinced by many of the concerns raised by the City.

In particular, fears that such a move would be hugely de-stabilising for the banks at a time when ministers are desperate for them to focus on lending more money to British business.

They will also have been acutely alert to warnings from the British Bankers Association that any "split up" could prompt some banks to relocate outside Britain.

The danger for the government however is that delaying the changes until after the general election - voters may conclude that ministers have simply caved in to pressure from the banks.

It also said that taxpayers should not be liable for future losses, and that depositors should get their money back before creditors.

Mr Cable told the BBC that the "uncertainty and instability in financial markets make it all the more necessary that we press ahead to make our banks safe and reform them".

Amid reports of disagreements between the Lib Dem and Conservative coalition partners over the pace of change, Mr Cable said he was "more conscious of areas of agreement" and he and Chancellor George Osborne shared "common ground" over the need to take the Vickers proposals forward.

But earlier, the CBI told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there had been "a radical slowdown" in the economy since that interim report and there was now real concern about the impact of any reform.

"We're going to have a major problem if growth stagnates, and at that point, my businesses being able to get cash from their banks is critical," John Cridland, its director general said.

"Anything which makes it harder for banks to keep the wheels of the economy well-oiled is not good timing."

'Risking recovery'

The Vickers commission was set up by the government last June to review the UK banking sector after it bailed out some of the UK's biggest banks during the 2008 financial crisis.

The government is under no obligation to implement the Vickers recommendations.

Banking commission recommendations

  • Retail banks should be ring-fenced from investment banks
  • They should have their own capital reserves
  • Banks should hold more capital to withstand potential losses
  • Taxpayers should not be liable for future losses
  • Depositors should get their money back before creditors
  • Lloyds Banking Group should sell more branches to increase competition.
  • It should be much easier for customers to move their accounts.

The BBC's Chief Political Correspondent Norman Smith said he sensed the government was "backing off" implementing any changes for some time and the banks would be given the "breathing space" they have been calling for to build up their financial strength after the 2008 crisis.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the government wanted to wait for the full report before responding to its recommendations.

"I think the key thing we want from our banks is really two things," he said.

"First of all, to be lending into the real economy so we can support growth and jobs. But the second thing we do need to make sure that our banks are not taking risks that put the economy at risk."

British Bankers' Association chief executive Angela Knight said banks should be allowed to "finance the recovery first, pay back the taxpayer next", and only then set about reform.

"If more regulation remains at the top of the list, then this will only have the affect of risking the recovery which is so essential to our future," she said.

National interest

But one financial expert said moving ahead with changes now need not be a problem if the correct framework was introduced.

"If you have the right sort of reforms...which in this case ought to be means of making it easier for banks to be allowed go bust safely without causing problems for taxpayers or the wider economy, you should introduce them at the earlier possible opportunity," said Andrew Lilico, from financial consultancy Europe Economic.

For Labour, shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie urged ministers to "get a grip" on the issue.

"The choked-off recovery we've seen since George Osborne's spending review and VAT rise should not be an excuse for ducking the necessary reforms," he said.

"And nor should rows between senior Cabinet ministers, and coalition politics, nor lobbying by the banking industry, stand in the way of delivering banking reforms that are in the national interest."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 822.

    A Chancellor can enact a budget policy within a few months, policies that affect every aspect of British life in just a few months, then why can't a much smaller organisation such as a Bank, enact financial policies with equal or less expediency? The answer is simple, because they do not wish to. And the Banks know their failings and prefer the Status Quo. Who runs this country? Us or them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 814.

    The Banks really are still in denial but there is validity to the arguement that changes now might well have a negative impact on an already fragile recovery which only goes to compound the point that they have too big a strangle hold on the economy.
    There is also the obvious political posteuring and expediency, one can only hope that the interests of the public pervade....I have my doubts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 779.

    People do not understand finance, they do not understand their own finances, let alone banking. I have worked in the finance industry for years, and am sick and tired of people blaming the finance industry for problems that they have no caused. Stop borrowing money already, personal debt causes sovereign debt!! Live within your means and everything will be fine, it's not rocket science...

  • rate this

    Comment number 648.

    Let's be honest here. I work in banks. People will do/say anything to get mortgages and loans because they are greedy and want it all and now ! Banks should have turned down more requests. They didn't because of their own greed and that of their shareholders, pure and simple. Now we are all paying the price because it is all out fault. Time things are put in place to stop it happening again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    The banks are trying to hold the country to ransom yet again. "Don't mess with us or we won't lend, or we'll go overseas," threaten their spokesmen. The country deserves to be free of this blackmail. Lets get some fair but firm regulation and implement it now.


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