City am has recently reminded us that there has been a big fall in City employment, down by 100,000 to 250,000. There has been an even bigger fall in bonuses paid, down from a peak of £11.6bn to an estimated £1.6 billion this year.
In the wild anti City atmosphere that followed the Credit Crunch many people and politicians said they wanted a smaller City. They wanted an end to excessive bonuses and high levels of remuneration. They have now got what they asked for.
The government has done half of what it set out to do in its search for a better balanced economy. They wanted a smaller proportion in finance and a higher one in industry. The City has contracted. We now need faster growth in industry, to give us the complementary “march of the makers” the Chancellor conjured in one of his speeches.
I am not persuaded the country is happier for this. Many of us would like less inequality of incomes, but some of us want that to happen by people on low incomes earning more, not by people on high incomes leaving the country or working less. The politics of jealousy may attract socialists, who just dislike rich people, but it does not make anyone else better off. Indeed, it makes the country worse off.
The collapse in City earning has led to a sharp fall in tax receipts from the City. At its peak the City contributed a massive £70 billion to the Treasury. Today that is down to £40 billion. The government has to try to find that missing £30 billion from somewhere else. That means taxing people on lower incomes more, through VAT, fuel duty and the rest. It also means the state borrowing more, so we have higher taxes to look forward to for longer to service the debts. The state still wishes to maintain and increase its level of spending, despite the pressures on revenues.
Why has the City fallen like this? Some of it reflects well paid people relocating to competing centres with lower tax rates. Some reflects the demand for banks to hold much higher levels of cash and capital for any given level of busienss, which makes them much less profitable. Some of it reflects the end to excessive activity based on too much credit prior to 2007. Some of it results from the growing costs of regulation which cuts into profits and bonuses.
The UK needs to be careful. The City was its great economic success story of the last three decades. It generated a lot of wealth and income for those who worked in it, brought other business in its wake to the UK, and paid a large amount in taxes to contribute to our wide ranging public service provision. Most countries with a success story like that would want to nurture it and develop it. Circumstance, political rhetoric and regulatory decisions have in the last five years shrunk the City.
Maybe now we should stop shrinking the City, and recognise that it can still provide jobs for many and tax revenue in abundance. Is anyone happier now there has been such a huge fall in bonuses and tax revenues?