The top floor of the Royal Bank of Scotland building in the centre of Walsall offers a magnificent view of the Council House and Walsall Central Library. At the back, however, the vista is less charming.
Overlooking a nondescript loading bay, distracted bank workers will see security guards from the magistrates court sneaking a quick cigarette or drinkers from a garish theme bar forced outside for a fag by the cacophony produced by seven different sports TV channels and a juke box all playing at full volume. Mercifully perhaps, the bar is temporarily closed due to a flood caused by a burst pipe in the court upstairs.
Before the snow, Christmas and the deluge from above, an illuminating scenario could be observed from the smoking area at the back of the RBS building that can be considered as a metaphor for the banking industry. After a hard nights day, a lunchtime pint of the antidote and a couple of coffin nails in the leper colony reserved for nicotine addicts revealed quite why the country is going to the dogs.
Over the wall, a van arrived and a ladder was placed against the bank. A sturdy yeoman son of toil climbed and inspected some corroded iron guttering which crumbled under his manly grip. He descended and after some minutes of unseen crashing metal, he and his comrade erected a scaffolding tower. Between them they removed some of the guttering to reveal an equally rotten timber fascia and soffit. With shaking heads and intakes of breath, the senior man reached for his mobile phone.
By the time a second pint had been purchased, the two artisans had been joined by a banker in a smart suit tastefully augmented with a hard hat and a high visibility tabard. The banker listened impassively and reached for his mobile phone. The silent drama was becoming compelling. This tableaux was repeated three times until four suits with hard hats were gazing up at the rotten gutter. Only the latest and most senior banker had the presence of mind to move his gleaming new BMW out of harms way. Although too far away to hear the conversation, the gestures of the builders and the growing realisation of horror on the faces of the bankers told the story.
Right said Fred: all the guttering, fascia and soffit will have to be replaced. To do that, the handrail and fire escape from the flat roof will have to come off. The nine inch water supply pipe and the security lighting will have to go and the flashing on the flat roof will need replacing. That means the air conditioning unit will have to be removed. The bankers looked pale. A 200 quid make do and mend job had turned into closing the building for a month and a bill of about a million. If only they had planned for such an eventuality. The bankers took off their hard hats and went back inside. The builders dismantled their scaffolding tower and went away.
Former RBS chief executive Fred Goodwin, knight of the realm, holder of a £16million pension pot and recipient of an annual salary of £4.2million was responsible for a £24billion loss to RBS which required a massive £37billion bail-out from the previous government. At the time, Goodwin said: “This isn’t a negotiation, it’s a drive-by shooting.” Right said Fred, if we take off all the handles and the things that hold the candles, with a rope or two we could drop the blighter through.
The view afforded from the top floor of the Barclays building in Canary Wharf is possibly even more breathtaking than the view of Lichfield Street. From his lofty tower, Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond can survey the London boroughs of Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Southwark, four of the poorest boroughs in the country. It is estimated that the total combined income of every single family in those boroughs in 2011 will fall short of the bonuses paid to a handful of bankers in the same period. Mr Diamond is worth £95million and receives an annual salary of £1.3million plus estimated bonuses and share options of a further £9million in this year alone. Sat in front of the Treasury select committee, Diamond Bob refused to express his gratitude to tax payers and said that the “period of remorse and apology for banks needs to be over”. Prior to the general election, the Conservative Party manifesto pledged to limit the bonuses paid to bankers to £2,000. It seems we are not all in this together.
An earlier entrepreneur, Andrew Carnegie no less, made an absolute mountain of money as a steel tycoon, but in later life gave most of it away. He said this:
“Man must have an idol and the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry! No idol is more debasing than the worship of money! Whatever I engage in I must push inordinately; therefore should I be careful to choose that life which will be the most elevating in its character. To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery.”
Carnegie provided the money to open the first public library in Walsall in an act of philanthropy unrecognisable today. Goodwin, Diamond and the others who brought about the financial crash are being rewarded rather than admonished. Short term greed and the self interest of already very wealthy men has resulted in the penalisation of the the already poor with the compliance of a coalition government hell bent on punishing the easy targets who played no part in the collapse of the banking system. The chances of banking executives looking out of their top floor windows and setting up a trust to fund libraries, hospitals and social housing are slim to say the least. Bankers are above government.
The gutter at the back of the RBS building in Walsall is still not fixed.