November 20: HBOS: Truth emerges at last

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Seven years and still no life bans

EVEN after all this time, the report into the collapse of HBOS is still truly staggering and will depress, still further, all those individuals and families who paid a very heavy price for the calamitous mismanagement of this once proud Yorkshire institution prior to the financial crash.

Not only will taxpayers – the people who had to bail out the bank seven years ago to the tune of £20bn – be perturbed to learn that it could be another 18 months, or even longer, before a decision is made on whether the chief culprits should be banned for life from working within the financial sector, but they will be appalled that the firm’s auditors KPMG, and the now defunct Financial Services Authority, did not act decisively to stem the reckless scale of over-borrowing.

This failure of oversight was compounded by just one of the bank’s non-executive directors having previous experience of banking. The consequence? Board meetings becoming little more than rubber-stamping exercises with ineffective scrutiny of the flawed strategy pursued by the likes of Scarborough-born chairman Lord Stevenson; James Crosby, who subsequently gave up his knighthood; Andy Hornby who now heads bookmakers Gala Coral and finance director Mike Ellis, the current chairman of Skipton Building Society and the individual with most to lose from the imposition of any ban.

Frankly, it defies belief just one HBOS executive, Peter Cummings, has been investigated and fined for his role in this banking collapse – and the domino effect that its demise had on not only the financial sector but the wider economy. Yet, while taxpayers await the next phase of a process which might, or might not, see his former colleagues be censured belatedly, the governance of every bank should, in the meantime, be reappraised in the cold light of this report. It is the very least that should be done.

Back on track: Network Rail’s leadership test

THE management failings at Network Rail, and so expertly exposed by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, will come as no surprise whatsoever to all those rail passengers who have witnessed this organisation in action. It is little surprise that they’re still waiting for track and signalling improvements, so more trains can run on busy commuter lines, when the cost of electrifying the Great Western Main Line has risen from £1.6bn to £2.8bn because of poor management and ineffective oversight by industry regulators.

This is one reason why London’s transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy was made chairman of Network Rail in the summer. His number one priority is completing a report, due to be published as part of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, into the viability of the network’s £38bn modernisation programme which was ‘paused’ in the summer because of escalating costs.

This exercise is essential – it only required Sir Peter to undertaken one journey on the railway line from Manchester to Leeds to realise that the planned electrification of the TransPennine route would not deliver more frequent train services without significant adaptation. This revised plan, including new track to enable fast trains to overtake local services, is now being implemented and the test of Sir Peter’s tenureship will be whether Network Rail avoids past mistakes on his watch.

Doctors’ orders: Jeremy Hunt must listen to NHS staff

THOSE junior doctors who have voted to go on strike over changes to their contracts, and those East Yorkshire GPs who have written a heartfelt letter to Jeremy Hunt ahead of his dinner date tonight with Beverley and Holderness Conservatives, do, in fact, have much in common with the Health Secretary.

Like Mr Hunt, they are motivated by a desire to do the very best for patients. Like the Government, there is a realisation that out-of-hours care is simply unacceptable. And, like Mr Hunt, there is an acceptance that change is necessary if the NHS is to meet the unprecedented demand from patients for its services.

In this regard, it is welcome that the British Medical Association wants the conciliation service Acas to intervene in the row over junior doctors, and their contracts, in a bid to stave off a highly damaging strike – action of the last resort – which will compromise the wellbeing of the most important people of all: patients.

If he has any sense, Mr Hunt will accede to this. For, if he is to remain in post, he actually needs the condfidence and trust of hospital doctors, nurses and GPs. Just listening would be some sort of start.