When the Chief Executive of Barclays Bank, Bob Diamond made his appearance in front of a House of Commons Select Committee recently, he said that “the time for remorse was over” for the bankers who had driven the Western economies to the edge of the precipice. Last month it emerged that Barclays Bank paid only £113 million in corporation tax last year despite making billions in profits. So it becomes slightly difficult to know whether Bob Diamond has ever shown any remorse at all.
As I write this from an office in Tower Hamlets in the East End of London, I can see Barclay’s looming headquarters, looming over the other tall blocks that populate what used to the capital’s busy docks. If I walk to the other side of the office, I can see a smaller row of ugly tower blocks, probably built in the 1960s and 1970s to house some of the poor who had been relocated due to slum clerarance. By happy or unhappy coincidence Barclays Bank has its base in this one of the poorest boroughs in England. Tower Hamlets has the UK’s highest proportion of children living in poverty, and the local council is being forced to cut some £70 million over the next thrre years from its budget. Tonight the council will meet to discuss and vote on the first tranch – some £30 million of cuts.
Bob Diamond could probably see where I am sitting from his office. And if he can see me, he can probably see Rob Smith, a teacher in Tower Hamlets, who told The Guardian newspaper; “These banks are part of our borough, but they act as though they are on another planet”.
Planet Barclays isn’t a bad place to be if your name is Bob Diamond, or if you are one of the many guilded head honchos who yesterday trousered millions in extra bonuses for turning up to work. Mr Diamond ‘earns’ £27 million a year – an interesting contrast to the £30 million Tower Hamlets is being forced to shave from its budget. But on top of that he was paid a futher £6.5 million in bonuses last year, as well as a £2,25 million in share options which he can cash in the future. In fact five Barclays bankers, including Bob Diamond yesterday were handed some £110 million in bonuses. This would more than cover the £70 million that Tower Hamlets council will be forced to take away from schools and other key services in the shadow of the glittering towers of the banks.
Lord Oakeshott, a Liberal Democrat Minister who resigned in protest at the feeble response of the Government to the grand larceny of the robber barons had this to say; “The capitalist model has clearly broken down when shareholders get so little and the managers grab so much”.
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Britain’s first Muslim Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, is doing his best to juggle the demands for cuts from Whitehall with the fears and protests of those who will be on the sharp end receiving them. There is absolutely no harm in him writing to Mr Diamond and his chums over at Barclays Bank and asking them if they will hand over their bonuses to save Tower Hamlets from having to cut local services and jobs. Afterall, given the amount they all managed to lose, they are hardly likely to miss a few million quid are they?