There can be few people in Gibraltar who are not aware of the latest banking scandals to strike in the UK. First 17 million RBS – Nat West customers found they couldn’t access their accounts or make transfers because the bank’s computer system collapsed. Then we have the Libor fixing debacle at Barclays which could yet spread to RBS again, HSBC, Citibank, UBS amongst others. Then just when you thought matters couldn’t get worse along comes the mis-selling of interest rate products in which 28,000 small UK businesses were sold these products by Barclays, RBS, HSBC and Lloyds. These banks now have to pay out massive compensation.
Of course many of these banking names are well known to Gibraltarians because they dominate our retail banking sector too just as they do in the UK. It doesn’t need me to talk of the moral collapse within the international banking system it is there for all to see.
On Saturday I attend the Fabian Society Summer Conference in London. The theme was Labour’s Next Majority and the highlight was to have been a Q and A session with Opposition leader Ed Miliband. Due to the banking crisis Miliband shortened his Q and As and instead made a keynote speech on banking in general and Barclays in particular.
An interesting point the Labour leader made was that if a person goes in to a supermarket, shoplifts some products worth a few pounds and is caught he or she will certainly be prosecuted with a real possibility they will be jailed. If a rogue banker cheats people by rigging the Libor rate or mis-selling businesses products which could have driven them to the wall they walk away Scott free with their bonuses all too often intact. Where is the morality in that?
By chance this week the BBC is running a series of programmes on getting old. Broadcaster Gloria Honeyford, who is no spring chicken herself, moved in for a few days with a retired woman living on her own. When all her expenses were paid she was left with just three pounds a day on which to eat and buy household products.
Gloria went to the supermarket with her with the intention of buy some meat, vegetables and pasta to make a Bolognese dish to last a few days. She was horrified to find the three pound would not cover the price of the ingredients: it would take two days budget if she bought nothing else.
Now in an email between the Barclays Libor traders one asked another to fix the rate to get him out of a spot and the reward would be a bottle of Bolly. Well I doubt if at the troughs bankers drink at a bottle of Bollinger gives any change from 100 pound and of course the rarer vintages can run in to hundreds or thousands. Even at 100 quid it was more than the lady in Gloria’s documentary had for food in a month. Ill gotten gains indeed.
However this is not just a story of London or New York or the other financial capitals of the world. There are too many families or elderly people in Gibraltar who are struggling to make ends meet: who everyday have to struggle to put food on the table and on some days don’t. These have nots are closely watched every day they go in to Morrisons or the local shop to make sure they don’t lift an apple or make off with a packet of pasta.
Yet we all know there are those in our midst who have benefited in recent years from lucrative contracts and sweetener deals to line their pockets. The government is investigating many of these and in due course these misdeeds will be laid bare with some people, possibly even former government ministers, standing in the dock. In the arrogance of their years in power the cry was in Gibraltar as in London’s financial districts – let them drink Bolly!
The jury is still out on Barclays' chief executive – in all likelihood Bob will be found not to have been a Diamond geezer after all. The same fate awaits those who abused the people of Gibraltar: their corks have popped and its time for justice.