The new UK and US "action plan" for safer banking

Five questions answered.

The UK and US have issued a joint paper outlining an action plan for flagging banks that hopes to protect the tax payer from costly financial bail outs.

Who exactly has issued this paper?

The Bank of England and America's Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

What are the key points of this ‘action plan’?

Key points include, establishing a single key regulator that will take responsibility for overseeing the insolvency of a big international bank.

Requiring big banks to hold enough capital and debt that could be converted into capital at the top of their corporate structures, in a hope that this capital and debt would absorb any losses the bank makes while its issues are resolved and the bank is made safe again.

They also request that banks continue with critical services, insulate foreign operations, sack reprehensible management and reduce parts of the bank that caused the problems in the first place.

What outcome is it hoped these key points will result in should there be another banking crisis?

That, for example, the Bank of England would not have to call on the Treasury  to put as much money into the Royal Bank of Scotland or an HBOS that was facing collapse, as happened in the most recent banking crisis, as the bank’s creditors would have to become shareholders.

The idea is that this would limit the cost to the tax payer and wider economy if another banking crisis should arise.

What banks in particular is this action plan aimed at?

Banks such as the UK's Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays and Citigroup and JP Morgan in the US.

What other consequences could occur from this action plan?

According to the BBC’s business editor this could result in: “the costs for banks of raising money would rise: as you will have deduced, the risks of investing in and lending to banks increases in proportion to the perceived reduction in the implicit insurance against failure they receive from the state.”

He adds that banks will: “have to make bigger returns to generate a profit. And, everything else being equal, that means they would feel obliged to charge their customers rather more for loans and for keeping money safe."

A banker in London. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.