Despite the views of the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, the prospects of banks being compulsorily split up between their retail and investment/’casino’ operations are receding.
Two years ago, the UK banking sector was close to complete collapse. The then Labour Government decided that the stricken Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) could not be allowed to fail.
The cost has been enormous. Around £45 billion of public money has been injected into RBS alone. Neither should the vast contingent public liabilities of RBS’ asset protection scheme be overlooked.
Many eminent authorities have proposed that, to avoid any recurrence of the 2008 collapse, the UK’s leading banks should be legally split up. Indeed, the independent Banking Commission, due to present its report next September, may advocate a split, possibly with caveats.
Even so, it is increasingly unlikely that the Coalition Government would pursue this route. Threats of HSBC – the owners of the former Midland - relocating to Hong Kong and Barclays, whose earnings are dominated by its investment bank operations, settling in New York are focussing minds: far lower tax receipts would accrue. Given the UK’s dire fiscal position, would it be surprising if this fact proves decisive?