I was off in Woking yesterday having a surprising amount of fun. Well, I am a cheap date – a glorious sunrise, good company, cake and the chance to harangue a sizeable crowd (albeit one dispersed across the continent of Europe) and I’m happy.
While I was away, it seems the Royal Bank of Scotland announced its results and they would seem to have made a loss of more than £5 billion. This makes the overdrafts run up by even the most profligate of its customers look like very small beer. I would like to imagine that any letters it sends in future to its financially embarrassed customers will have a rather more sympathetic tone – though I suspect they won’t. However, impressive as this loss was, it did not seem to be the lead story – that honour was reserved for the fact that the bank will be paying some (or perhaps all) of its employees bonuses for the year. This was widely seen as going too far – but, ever the contrarian, I can think of at least two grounds on which such payments might be more than reasonable.
My first example considers the case of a group of workers who through their dedication, skill or sheer good fortune (like Napoleon, I am happy to take lucky generals) ensured that the loss was only £5 billion, rather than the £10 billion that would otherwise have been the case. I have no idea if such people exist, and that if they do they would be rewarded, but I can see no objection to such folk receiving a modest bonus. I use the word modest, as I struggle to see any reason or need to receive 6 or more figure (as measured in Pounds Sterling) bonuses – what do they find to do with such enormous sums of money? I certainly would be unable to come up with ideas very quickly – I struggle to spend my current much more modest income – and so would probably have to give most of it to charity. Then again, I find it easier to understand the mind of serial killers than those who consider they should receive millions of pounds in bonus for doing their already well-paid job somewhat competently – but that may say more about me and my degree of emotional repression than it does about others.
My second example asks the reader to consider the fact that the vast majority of the employees of RBS are not gambling with huge sums of our money, mis-selling us unnecessary financial products or sexually molesting each other (OK, I’ll admit this third scandal has yet to break, but as the RBS existed in the 70s and 80s it can only be a matter of time). Most could only make even a tiny dent in a £5 billion shortfall, even if they were superhumanly competent at their jobs. Many will also probably be first in the firing line for the job cuts almost inevitably coming as the knee-jerk response to this latest loss. I’m sure lots of these folk do excellent work, and I’d like to nominate a couple for a share of the bonus pot. For many years now, Ailsa and Les at the RBS Personal Tax Service have been ensuring that I remain on the right side of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – and have always been a comfort at times of worry and a joy to deal with. For putting up with me for that length of time (and bringing a modest income to RBS for so doing), they must deserve some recognition – and I’m sure they are far from the only ones.
So, the next time we feel the urge to excoriate the “bankers”, we should spare a thought for the many hard-working folk, on very ordinary salaries for whom the phrase “job security” may be rather a nervous one in these trying times.