Banking reforms 'may not happen until 2015'

Media caption,

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

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.

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.

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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