Does Mark Carney really deserve his reputation as a super-banker?

The new Bank of England governor shouldn't be given so much credit for Canada's economic success.

Super-banker Mark Carney negotiated an impressive 30 per cent increase in remuneration, in the form of pension contributions, providing him with a total of £624,000 a year for the Bank of England job. This was not agreed by the remuneration committee but was negotiated by the Treasury (George Osborne) and agreed by the bank’s non-executive directors.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back to 1938 in Cleveland, Ohio, and be in the room when Joe Shuster created comic book hero Superman. I don’t have a time machine, but I was in London in November 2012 when super-banker Mark Carney was invented. So since we’re all having to put our hands in our pockets and pay this man his extravagant salary, maybe we should dispel a few myths before going any further. Gushing Osborne describes him as an "outstanding candidate" in the press release. He loves Carney for "avoiding big bail outs and securing growth." So is that what super-banker really did?

Canada has always had a conservative banking industry and its banks were not over-exposed on entering the credit crunch. The country avoided the crisis in every way except for being the neighbour of the USA, which did cause a short term shock. Carney arrived at the Bank of Canada in February 2008, when the world crisis was already in full swing. It would be impossible for him to have implemented policy that retrospectively saved Canada from turmoil. He was simply there when nothing happened and is happy for people to believe he is a genius as a result.

As for Osborne’s comment on "securing growth"? The fact is that countries like Canada and Australia are rich in resources at a time when the expansion of China has created massive demand for them. Carney didn’t arrange for the rise of China, although if someone had attributed it to him, you can bet he’d allow the myth to perpetuate.

For Canada, the last five years have been so benign that Carney could have turned up to work and played ping pong all day. Yet, here we are, pouring praise on him. We know how Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown would respond to a major financial crisis, because they were there, for good or ill. We don’t know how this guy would be in a crisis, because he’s never been in one. Yet he’s a genius, according to George Osborne.

Osborne has returned regulation to the Bank of England, in the bizarre belief that it can do a better job. This obviously ignores BCCI and Barings. Carney is supposedly qualified as a regulator as he has private banking experience at Goldman Sachs. However, it seems that he advised Russian on their 1998 financial crisis while Goldman was simultaneously betting against the country's ability to repay its debt. This bloke doesn’t know what’s happening right under his own nose, yet he’s in charge of London?

The US has much more experience of capitalism than us, and they always, rightly, have a lawyer in charge of regulation. In a recent TV interview Adair Turner, another economist, didn’t know whether Libor cheating would constitute fraud. He was in charge of City regulation at the time. Yet here we have another economist being put in charge of regulation, when the job should go to a lawyer.

For a central banker he does at least have a very smart suit. Maybe that’s why we’re paying him an extra £144,000 of our money each year. Let’s look on the bright side, George Clooney would have wanted even more.

Dan McCurry is a photographer in east London and a Labour activist. He is a former chair of the Bow Labour Party.

The new governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who previously served as the head of the Bank of Canada. Photograph: Getty Images.

Dan McCurry  is a photographer in east London and a Labour activist. He is a former chair of the Bow Labour Party.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.