Opinion  

Independence passed up

Kevin O’Donnell

Kevin O’Donnell

Admittedly Age UK chief executive Tom Wright CBE is also joining, and his different viewpoint will be valuable, but overall these appointments are a major missed opportunity. Where are the consumer experts, the practitioners, the independent voices? I am not volunteering, by the way, but surely there must have been a few figures who have not spent much of their life working in or around the City.

Yes, City knowledge is useful for FCA board members, but we should not lose sight of the fact that the regulator is in business to protect consumers, and the consumer voice is very important both inside and outside the organisation.

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Several critics have suggested that the Treasury is trying to muffle the constant regulatory questioning of City practices and the banks in particular. I cannot say if this is the case, and it is not something the Treasury is likely to confirm, but if there is a grain of truth in it, Mr Osborne will need to tread carefully.

We need a strong and vibrant financial services sector, to be sure, and London remains a pre-eminent centre of which we should all be proud – but not at any cost. Regulation without teeth is no regulation at all.

It may also be time to consider whether the excessively close ties between the Treasury and the FCA should be loosened a little. It works for the Bank of England, there is no reason why it should not work for the FCA, which should be a completely independent regulator. A thought perhaps for the Treasury Select Committee?

Ultimately the chancellor is answerable to the great British public, who deserve robust regulation of the financial services sector which has, unfortunately, repeatedly let them down. I hope that for the sake of appeasing the City and big banks that threaten to move their domiciles elsewhere the chancellor does not lose sight of this.

Kevin O’Donnell is a financial writer and journalist

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