Is this the end of bonus culture?

The punishment, finally, has come.

Finally the punishment has come. After years of banker bashing, public rage and political incredulity, bankers, it seems, are ultimately being hit where it hurts – their bonuses.

The bonus cap, announced on Wednesday, comes not from the UK Government, but the EU, who seemed very pleased with the result: Othmar Karas, the European Parliament’s negotiator said: “For the first time in the history of EU financial market regulation, we will cap bankers’ bonuses”.

But banking is only one half of the story. The excessive bonus culture, inherited from the 80s, has permeated just about every financial trading institution. Hedge funds, those opaque offices of Mayfair that have given us vocabulary like “futures” and “swaps”, are also likely to have their bonuses capped. Other traders could also see regulation: asset managers, investment managers, fund managers; the list goes on. So is this the end of bonus culture?   

Probably not, no. Although financial institutions threaten to go abroad, the list of regulatory-friendly destinations is getting smaller by the day. No, it is much easier just to bypass the rules. The obvious solution is simply to raise salaries – the norm method of gaining more pay before bonuses. An increased salary will also see bigger bonuses as the EU proposed cap is fixed to salaries at a ratio of 1:1 (or 2:1 with shareholder approval).

Long term bonuses-type rewards will also be exempt from the cap. Rather than receiving the usual Christmas bonus, bankers can earn a quarter of their salary through instruments deferred for five years. Other complex structures and financial vehicles will be set up to fall outside EU powers and confound Brussels policy makers. 

Like smoking, financial institutions seem unable to quite their bonuses. Discouraged by Government, banned from public places and shamed by society, bonus baiting goes on.

Photograph: Getty Images

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

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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