CHARLES GRAHAM - Bankers must be held to account

IN the end Stephen Hester had little choice.

One does wonder though whether the current chief executive of the bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland would have turned down his fat bonus if such transactions didn’t have to be on public record.

It should be stressed that Mr Hester was not to blame for the bank’s woes and has done much to repair the damage since its near collapse necessitated an almost complete state takeover. One might also concede that he could be earning a whole lot more working for another bank.

But, like it or not, when he took on this rescue job he put himself under the same amount of scrutiny from taxpayers and into the same high-accountability bracket as MPs (expenses) and senior public servants (salaries).

So it was quite right that pressure should have been brought to bear, by the Labour Party and others, to get him to forego his bonus of nearly £1m.

It’s sad that anyone needed to say anything and calls are now growing for other executives to follow Hester and his chairman’s suit.

Hester’s annual “basic” salary is £1.2m and since being parachuted in to help RBS he is estimated to have taken home £11m in shares and cash, so he’s not short of a bob or too.

No doubt once his mission is over here he’ll also receive a nice big golden handshake for a job well done and then go back to private banking to earn a real salary again.

Meanwhile few tears are being shed for his predecessor Fred Goodwin who was stripped of his knighthood this week for getting RBS into the mess that Hester has been sorting out.

Considering the huge pension pay-off he managed to hang onto, this is the least that could be done to punish someone for such a huge financial disaster. It shows that at least one banker hasn’t been able to get away scot-free over their contributions to the recession.

But this withdrawal of Goodwin’s Queen’s honour should be qualified in two ways.

One is that while he messed up, he didn’t actually break the law (although it was hard to justify retaining a knighthood given “for services to banking”.) Meanwhile there are folk sitting in the House of Lords influencing national policy who have criminal records.

The other point is that Goodwin was not the sole cause of the credit crunch. There are plenty of other highly-paid executives, some with knighthoods, who must also share the blame and are overdue some medicine of their own.