How Barclays chiefs tried but failed to keep their names quiet

Barclays’ wealth unit alleged to pursue a "revenue at all costs strategy".

It has been quite a week for the overworked press and PR teams at Barclays, and the past seven days have offered a goldmine of stories for Barclays’ watchers.

The latest comedy cuts story featuring Barclays relates to its publicity shy executives and former-execs such as former CEO Bob Diamond applying - and mercifully failing – to keep their names out of a London Inter-Bank Offer Rate (LIBOR) rate-rigging court claim.

This scandal, including claims that Barclays’ traders tried to fix LIBOR to their advantage to maximise their bonuses, is toxic for Barclays’ tarnished reputation: it has already held its hands up and coughed up a fine of £290m.

So now, thanks to Mr Justice Flaux, we know that Diamond, former chief operating officer Jerry del Missier, Mark Dearlove, head of Barclays’ money-market desk and Stephen Morse, former head of compliance, are on a list of 104 bankers who wished to be given anonymity in the first UK trial with relevance to the rigging of the benchmark interest rate.

As Mr. Justice Flaux said: “The cat is out of the bag…….it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to work out who they are.”

Trying and failing to gain anonymity in this case merely makes Diamond look even more foolish than was previously thought possible.

This, after all, is the banker who accepted Barclays’ ridiculous decision to award him 80 per cent of his maximum possible bonus in 2011, despite Barclays missing its financial targets and witnessing a 35 per cent fall in its share price in 2011.

This week started with Barclays’ press office trying to place a positive spin on Antony Jenkins, Diamond’s successor as CEO, plans to introduce a culture of ethical behaviour. He said that bankers had pursued short-term profits at the expense of the reputation of the bank: Gosh, really?

Jenkins will say more on 12 February when he reveals a strategic plan: bank speak for how to increase profits with fewer staff.

Already, several thousand Barclays’ employees face an uncertain future as the bank has kicked off a consultation process as part of a formal review of its 23,000-strong investment banking unit.

Barclays’ watchers expect between 2,000 and 3,000 staff to be axed as part of Jenkins’ strategic plan.

The week continued with news that Andrew Tinney, formerly COO of Barclays’ wealth management unit, had left the bank following allegations that he tried to keep secret a report on the how his business unit went about its business.

The report did not make for pleasant reading; surprise, surprise, it alleged that Barclays’ wealth unit pursued a "revenue at all costs strategy" and that there was a culture of fear and intimidation.

There are at least two positives from this weeks events at Barclays.

The first is that Royal Bank of Scotland - next in the LIBOR firing line as it awaits details of the level of the fine it is to pay - is unlikely to be daft enough to seek anonymity for its executives implicated in the LIBOR scandal.

The second plus for Barclays PR team is that the week is almost over.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.