Peter Hoskin

The coalition tees up its banking reforms

The coalition tees up its banking reforms
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That was easy. Only a few months after Sir John Vickers released his final recommendations for reforming the banking sector — and after much less intra-coalition struggle than we might have expected — the government is set to announce that it will adopt them ‘in full’. Vince Cable revealed yesterday that he and George Osborne have reached common agreement on the matter. And, for his part, Osborne will appear before MPs today with further details. 

As Robert Peston has already explained, ‘in full’, in this case, doesn't quite mean 100 per cent — but it's close. The main proposal to ringfence retail banking off from riskier investment banking will be fully implemented. So too mechanisms to ensure that unsecured lenders are more liable than savers in the event of a bank collapsing. But the banks have secured a concession, it seems, on a recommendation that they should have a ‘primary loss-absorbing capacity of at least 17-20 per cent.’ HSBC, in particular, argued that this, in its current formulation, would be dispropotionately expensive for some banks compared to others.

Starting with a White Paper next year, the rush is now on to implement most of this by 2015. The coalition is sensitive to the political benefits of reforming the banks before the next election, so it's eager to do just that. And both the Lib Dems and Tories will be able to say that they got what they wanted, more or less. This may not be the full Glass-Steagall-style split that Cable was pushing for, nor what the Tories recommended in their extensive ‘plan for sound banking’ from before the election, but it's close enough to both, in spirit and in practice.

So, with even Alistair Darling welcoming the reforms, does that mean the banks are now spent as a mainstream political issue? Don't you bet on it. In his speech today, Nick Clegg is set to bristle, once again, at the bonuses being paid out by banks to their staff. If more disagreement or hyperactivity comes, expect it to be on that front.