The government is busy trying to stop the next banking crisis. I want it to sort out the last one. It is all very well giving the Bank of England powers to force the break up or segregation of a large conglomerate bank in the future if it lends too much and runs too much risk. The real issue is how is this government, now, going to get RBS working properly and lending enough to the starved UK private sector?
Giving the Bank of England an electric ring fence does not mean a future problem is sorted out. An electric fence warns but does not kill an animal that encounters it. An electric fence would not withstand a determined herd of animals wanting to trample it. Metaphors are often misleading. The issue in the future is would the Bank see the need to use its new powers at the appropriate time? Would they turn the current on when things seem to be going well? The problem in 2006-7 was not a lack of power to rein in excess banking risk, but an unwillingness or inability to see the need to do it. Can you really see in the next boom the Governor going to a very powerful, profitable and successful world bank in London and telling them, he will force break up or better segregation? Why wouldn’t they just change domicile?
Meanwhile, close at home and largely owned by the taxpayer lies the damaged RBS – becalmed because it still cannot get rid of the taxpayer shareholding and rarely makes an overall profit. If ever there were a candidiate for break up, there is one. The government could agree a break up with the minority shareholders. The UK needs more soundly financed competitive clearing banks to finance a recovery. The government owns many of the components to do that in RBS. Why doesn’t it get on with it before it is too late to improve the economy before the next General Election?