Five questions answered on the new banking reforms

Are we right to jail reckless bankers?

The government has today said it will back most of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Commission for Banking Standards (PCBS). We answer five questions on the plans for reform.

What key recommendations is the government planning on implementing?

The key changes are:

There will be a new criminal offence of reckless misconduct by top bankers resulting in a possible jail sentence.

If a bank has been bailed out bankers bonuses could be repayable. Bonuses are also to be deferred by up to 10 years.

If any bank breaks any rules, the burden of proof shall lie with the relevant senior bankers to show that they took all reasonable steps to stop it happening.

What recommendations are the government not taking up?

The government did not agree to employ a much tougher leverage ration for banks, limiting the total amount of loans and investments a bank can make relative to the amount of capital the bank holds in order to absorb losses on those assets.

This would ultimately toughen limits on banks’ risk taking.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has decided instead to stick to the lower level agreed and set out by the Bank for International Settlements in Basel.

The government has also refused to abolish its holding company for its stakes in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, called UK Financial Investments. It said: "UKFI is staffed by highly expert professionals with extensive experience in the banking sector".

What else has Osborne said?

Today he said: “The government is determined to raise standards across the banking industry to create a stronger and safer banking system.

“I am pleased to say that the government will implement its main recommendations. Where legislative changes are required we will amend the Banking Reform Bill which is currently before Parliament.

“Cultural reform in the banking sector marks the next step in the government’s plan to move the whole sector from rescue to recovery and ensure that UK banks demonstrate the highest standards, and are able to support business and drive economic growth.”

What other changes will be made?

The Prudential Regulation Authority, which is responsible for ensuring excess risks do not build up within the banking system, will be given an extra job of ensuring competition among banks.

Is the government considering any changes in the way the Royal Bank of Scotland is handled?

The government did say it would consider the PCBS’s suggestion of splitting the Royal Bank of Scotland into a ‘good’ high street bank - that can be quickly sold back to the private sector – and a ‘bad’ bank which should be kept and existing problematic loans worked out. 

Guests listen to speeches at the "Lord Mayor's Dinner to the Bankers and Merchants of the City of London" at Mansion House on June 19, 2013. 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.