In June 1984 HMS Jupiter, a Leander-class frigate of the Royal Navy, visited the pool of London. Departing the berth alongside HMS Belfast, Jupiter’s captain, Commander Colin Hamilton decided to ignore the advice of the pilot and declined the offer of two PLA tugs which were provided for him. The strong incoming tide swept Jupiter broadside against London bridge, bending masts, radar and aerials, as well as damaging the bridge itself. City workers crossing the bridge on their way home gazed down at the stuck vessel and chunks of granite falling into the Thames. Commander Hamilton was court-martialled and spent the rest of his career teaching at a shore facility; he never held sea command again. The navy vests great power in its captains, but holds them responsible for the safety of their vessel and the lives of their crew.
The shareholders entrusted Fred Goodwin and his fellow directors with the responsibility of managing the Royal Bank of Scotland. The commonwealth of the United Kingdom trusted him too, as RBS is a clearing bank and a key part of the UK economy. Mr Goodwin indulged in a large amount of reckless lending, grew the bank’s balance sheet to dangerous levels and then bought a fourth-rate Dutch bank without doing any due diligence. Had he been a naval officer I suspect he would have been reduced to the rank of stoker, but as a civilian he was allowed to retire to his large Edinburgh house with a pension worth £500,000 a year. He gambled the bank, his employees’ livelihoods and his customers’ savings, knowing that his downside was a comfortable retirement.
The financial crisis of 2008 was a crisis of corporate governance as much as anything else, and nothing has changed since that is likely to prevent such a disaster befalling out economy again. the behaviour of Lloyds Bank over the frauds perpetrated on its customers by the HBOS operation in Reading shows that these banks have learnt nothing – as does the crisis at Wells Fargo in the United States. No bank executives or directors have been held to account for their behaviour in the years leading up to 2008. Those who enjoy the rewards and privileges of command must know that they have great responsibility as well, and that they will be held to account if hubris, recklessness or incompetence bring their organisations to disaster. Commander Hamilton discovered that; it is a great shame that Fred Goodwin did not also. It would certainly sharpen the focus of those sitting atop banks today.
In what seems a belated and doomed attempt to hold some bankers to account, the SFO has charged a group of Barclays executives with offences relating to their capital raising from Qatar. This seems odd, given that Barclays took not one penny of taxpayers money. John Varley is the first global bank chief executive to face criminal charges stemming from the financial crisis. He can count himself extremely unlucky, given the roster of rogues and thieves who could be in the dock alongside him. RBS launched a rights issue which looks frankly fraudulent, given that the information provided in the prospectus was mostly bollocks and the bank collapsed within six months. The directors were either dishonest or incompetent. I think it will be very hard to prove that Varley and his colleagues acted dishonestly in raising private capital to save their bank, rather than collapse into the lap of the taxpayer. The prosecution is also connected to the fact that Mrs May wants to abolish the SFO – this case is their punt for survival. Mrs May is wrong to want to destroy the SFO – on the contrary, she should be strengthening it and empowering it to ensure that future Fred Goodwins find themselves in the dock when they drive their ship onto the rocks.
Jeremy spoke at the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) Environment Seminar, on behalf of Clean Up Britain and called on major brands to change the way the public interacts with waste packaging.
“Litter is the sort of advertising that nobody wants,” Jeremy said. “If the sides of the roads are littered with rubbish baring your logo, then you have got a problem.
“What we need to do most of all is to change the way people behave. Businesses have to make dumping litter socially unacceptable in the same way that drink driving now is. It is increasingly clear that the only way for us to win the war on litter is for all of us to come together in a far more integrated way.
“We need a coordinated, collaborative initiative involving environment boards and companies, trade unions and the private sector. I don’t think the Government will help, they’ve already failed us.”
Jeremy noted that the amount of litter in the UK had increased by around 500% over the past 50 years, and last year alone, local authorities across the UK spent more than £1bn on removing litter from our streets.
He called on the private sector to fund behavioural change campaigns that will not only reduce public littering, but “will get Government to jump on the bandwagon of a successful collaborative initiative”.