Hampton: Defending Hester's bonus

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Media captionSir Philip Hampton, chairman of RBS: Hester "entitled" to bonus

Philip Hampton, chairman of RBS, used the "can't-live-with-them, can't-live-without-them" defence of bankers and their big pay today.

As I have mentioned before, he is firmly of the view that investment bankers and banking executives are paid too much - not because he is opposed to big pay, but because bankers' pay has become disconnected from rewards for shareholders.

Or to put it another way, bankers have made personal fortunes over the past decade, while anyone unfortunate enough to own shares in their institutions has been consigned to near penury.

But, as he pointed out in this morning's interview on the Today Programme, it is hard to find a business more important to the UK's economic prospects than Royal Bank of Scotland and also one in a bigger mess than RBS.

His judgement as chairman is that if RBS is to be sorted out, he needs to pay the going rate for the best banking talent - even if that going rate is a manifestation of grotesque market failure.

He believes the chief executive Stephen Hester is the best that money can buy.

So he risked serious public opprobrium by awarding Mr Hester that million pound bonus - because for him doing so was the equivalent of Man City's Mancini paying whatever mind-boggling sums were necessary to attract and retain Silva, Nasri and Ballotelli.

He now accepts he under-estimated how hostile the public and political reaction would be to the bonus. But even though Mr Hester concluded it was impossible to take, there is no hint from Sir Philip that the principle of awarding it was wrong.

If Hampton has credibility, some would say, it's because he rejected £1.4m in shares from RBS, that were due to be delivered in a few weeks.

Or to put it another way, he is demonstrating by his own actions what he thinks ought to happen over time to bankers' pay - and isn't propping up Stephen Hester's rewards as part of an insidious bankers' plot to prevent gravity ever applying to bonuses.


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Media captionSir Philip Hampton says for him to take a bonus would be "inappropriate"

I suppose the most interesting additional thing that Sir Philip Hampton said in his TV interview with me is that all big business, not just banks, is feeling a bit unloved at the moment.

And he didn't deny what other business leaders have said to me, that there is a general feeling that the government is doing very little to make the case for bigger companies in the facing of growing public hostility (especially in respect of the perceived lavishness of executive rewards).

Government is setting itself up as the great champion of smaller business and few would argue against that.

But the British economy is very dependent - some would say too dependent - on the presence here of huge, mobile, multinationals. They are disproportionately responsible for job creation, tax revenues and innovation in Britain (as research by the consultants McKinsey, among others, has pointed out).

So alienating those big companies, if they can take their valuable investment to other parts pf the world, might be dangerous.

Oh, and just to confirm, Sir Philip said bonuses for RBS's investment bankers would be significantly less than last years £950m, but he refused to put a number on it.

They won't be nil.