After what just happened to Chris Lucas, who'd be a banker?

Banker bashing is our new national sport.

Another week, another banker is on the podium. This week it’s the former Barclays’ finance director, Chris Lucas, who has just announced his retirement having joined the Bank in pre-recession in 2007.

Suddenly a flurry of questions surrounds him: Was he involved in the Libor scandal that forced his boss, Bob Diamond, to go?  Perhaps the current investigation into a suspicious loan to Qatar has something to do with it? Did Lucas leave on his own account or was there a gentle nudge by those seeking to clear out the Barclays "old guard"? (Mark Harding, Barclays Group General Counsel also announced his retirement having joined in 2003.) 

We simply don’t know yet. But so far all clues look innocent: apparently Lucas wanted to go two years ago, citing health reasons. He even waived his 2012 bonus because of the Libor scandal and insiders consider it unlikely he will part with a "golden handshake".

So why the tirade of questions? Is the retirement of a finance director really that interesting or perhaps banking needs a new villain? We want another Bob Diamond, another Fred Goodwin or Stephen Hester who we can point at and say, “You’re the problem”. Bored of the old banking stories, here is a something potentially new. Barclays has recently been beset by woes and the spotlight is on those walking out of the board room.    

While banker bashing has become endemic, a national sport, it is discouraging a generation from (what was) considered the top job. This scrutiny weighs heaviest on those, like Lucas, at board level. After announcing Lucas and Harding’s retirement, Barclays said, “Chris and Mark have agreed to remain in their roles until their successors have been appointed and an appropriate handover completed. The search for these appointments is now underway”. A job in banking anyone?   

Another week, another banker is on the podium. Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR