THOUGH Britain is now on the road to economic recovery, trust in the banking industry – and those who are supposed to police it – remains at rock bottom. Indeed, the more that is known of the moral bankruptcy at the heart of the sector prior to the 2007 crash, the less surprising it becomes.
Claims that HSBC helped 7,000 wealthy Britons avoid millions of pounds in tax using secret “black” accounts based in Switzerland are merely the latest in a series of revelations that shed light on the darkest corners of the industry, where loopholes were exploited and legalities sidestepped almost as a matter of course.
And although this scandal relates to as far back as a decade ago, the British public are still suffering under the weight of its consequences.
The existence of such schemes for the super-rich gives the lie to the notion that every section of society is bearing its share of that suffering. Clearly they are not. Perhaps more troubling still is the sense that those who have cheated the system are not being punished for their transgressions.
Even though 1,100 people who had not paid what they should have done were identified during a 2010 investigation into HSBC’s Swiss operation, five years later only one person has been prosecuted.
Meanwhile, the man in charge of HSBC at the time, Stephen Green, was made a Conservative Peer and appointed to the Government eight months after HM Revenue and Customs had been handed leaked documents from his bank which identified the accounts in question.
The role of Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who was City Minister at the time, deserves to come under scrutiny. This, after all, is the man who wants to take over the Treasury. But the scandal is particularly damaging to David Cameron, raising fresh questions not only over his judgement but also his subsequent inaction.
Are Labour’s plans affordable?
IT would be rather presumptuous for business leaders to dismiss the proposals by Leeds MP Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, to extend paternity pay and double the time fathers can take off work following the birth of a new child, if Labour returns to power.
Similar objections were raised prior to the advent of the minimum wage. Now the debate is whether its parameters should be extended to encompass the living wage concept being championed by the Archbishop of York. It was the same when the rights of fathers were extended. Now the debate is whether existing rules go far enough or not.
However, Labour do still have two key questions to answer. First, the Opposition need to prove that their plan is affordable. It coincided with promises to create 50,000 nursery places at no extra cost to the taxpayer. Where is the money coming from? There’s only so much that can be raised from the unscrupulous who have not been fulfilling their tax obligations because of loopholes like those exploited by HSBC.
Second, Labour does need to recognise the potential impact of its reforms on those small and medium-sized firms. They are very different to large employers like Asda, which was cited by Ms Reeves, and which does have the flexibility to allow fathers to take four weeks off work. Rather than rushing to legislate a “one-size-fits-all” policy, it might be more opportune to lead the debate by gentle persuasion – this, after all, is the method being deployed by Dr John Sentamu to persuade private and public sector organisations to back the living wage.
A total betrayal of crime victims
THE FACT that there is still uncertainty about Victim Support’s funding in Yorkshire, and the possibility of staff being made redundant, reflects poorly on the politicians responsible for this sad state of affairs.
With only weeks until the deadline, next year’s funding levels have still not been officially confirmed, leaving the charity’s staff and volunteers in limbo. Even though responsibility has been passed from the Government to local crime commissioners, this will cut little ice with the most important people of all – victims of crime.
This is a service which is a lifeline to families who have lost loved ones in some of the most horrific circumstances imaginable. Its difficulties also make a complete mockery of those politicians, from Tony Blair to today’s leaders, who have repeatedly promised to put “victims at the heart of the criminal justice system”.
Those words will sound even more hollow unless this impasse is resolved as a matter of urgency.