Friday, 27 February 2009

When Gesture Politics Fail

Lord Myners appears to have hit the wrong end of things when calling on Sir Fred Goodwin to make a gesture of giving up part of his pension. The former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland wrote back to the Treasury minister once it became clear to his surprise that his pension plans had been leaked to the BBC's Robert Preston.

He wrote back (letters available at The Times) saying he had no objection to his response being made public, before as the Times tell us he made it available himself. The outcome is that he sees that gestures he has already taken, refusing his notice period salary and share options, was already an ministerially approved gesture. Going back to October not the last couple of days as the Prime Minister seems to want to have us believe. Goodwin was in discussions with Myners "at the time".

It is a marvel that the as Myners claims the UK Financial Investments (UKFI) only found out about the discretionary choice of the RBS Board over Goodwin's pension last week. You'd have expected someone to be going over with a fine tooth comb details that had been discussed with Ministers over the past months. Especially in light of discussions over the previous chairman's pension arrangement before assenting to any agreement over what was appropriate.

Having been a former civil servant I'm sure that someone somewhere had enough wit to think outside the box and think about looking into it. I'm sure it also was flagged up on some bit of correspondence that was flying around the Treasury in October or whenever the UKFI first took a stake in RBS. These sorts of minutiae are never totally overlooked, especially when they are no so much minutiae. What I suspect did happen in the last week is that with the whole bonus brouhaha somebody remembered some memo about Goodwin's pension, that had been filed away. As the public outcry rose it bugged them so that one morning they came into the office and asked one of the Administrative Assistant to dig out some files. Then after a bit of reading, ignoring things that had been planned, the memo or margin note or position paper was found and an almighty panic ensued.

But the damage had been done, the Minister had given assurances and was now left trying to back pedal facing further public relations disasters.

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