Welcome to my blog. I may write copy here that I would not present elsewhere. This blog allows me to comment while reporting for clients which can include subscription-only platforms. I use it to take a sideways look at running stories, and all views presented here are my own.

Interested parties are invited to comment.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Treasury Select Committee Got Gladiatorial

It was so packed at the much-vaunted Treasury Select Committee meeting in Portcullis House Tuesday 10th February 2009 that people had to be fitted into an overflow room and journalists like Robert Peston, a former TSC witness himself, were schmoozing the duty policemen to ensure their places. In we filed, officials, MPs, witnesses (the bankers), journalists, etc. Events were broadcast live on all news channels and the Chairman, John McFall, allowed the expected 90 minute hearing to run to three hours. The two CEOs and the two bank chairmen seemed like schoolboys hauled before a headmaster and his team. Each of the bankers was asked to apologise right at the beginning, and they did. Though as the questioning unfolded, the bankers appeared unsure about where culpability might lie, precisely. The bankers said that Alan Greenspan influenced them, but claimed that they did not anticipate the market turning as fast as it did.

The Oxford dictionary definition of a bank was discussed, as were bonuses, over and over. That tired city phrase 'going forward' appeared , as in the former Royal Bank of Scotland Chairman Sir Tom McKillop saying that he felt that a review of remuneration packages was needed, 'Going forward.'

The best dressed folk in the room were the bankers and the MPs though the journalists too were suitably attired for an appearance in the Palace of Westminster. And though the discussion was rivetting and revelatory, my eye was often caught by a security gentleman who had some of his black hair, tied up in a pony tail, dyed a similar colour to his maroon suit and who had up to three piercings on his face. The cameras don't pick up these details. (I talked to him afterwards, and he was quite well spoken).

John Mann MP scowled at the bankers continuously. He leant moodily across his chair and occasionally seemed about to explode. His question to Andy Hornby, fomer CEO of HBOS, concerning the definition and amount of a 'JSA' (Hornby neither appeared to know that it stood for Job Seekers' Allowance nor that it stood at roughly £60.50 per week) was a significant moment.

The question of banking qualifications among CEOs, Chairmen, executive and non-executive directors was debated in detail, as was the precise hiring process conducted by the Financial Services Authority in appointing said CEOs. Colin Breed MP asked one CEO, 'Did the FSA interview you and approve the appointment?' back came the answer, 'no, I was not interviewed.'

But the biggest jaw-dropping moment of all came after the question, 'Have you asked for or are you being given any legal advice on the subject of criminal negligence?'

Sir Tom McKillop replied for RBS. 'No,' he whispered, visibly shocked.

Afterwards, TSC member George Mudie MP asked me if I had enjoyed the proceedings. I replied by asking him how he was feeling. He said that none of the MPs had known that the Chair, McFall, would extend the hearing to three hours, and that they would have close questioned even more if they had known in advance. He pointed out that the RBS's former CEO, Sir Fred Goodwin's comments at the end were interesting, as it was the first time that a banker had discussed securitisation at these TSCs.

No comments: