Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Banks were lacking in integrity, not plumbers

Stop your banker bashing, quell your Libor rigging rage and set aside your credit crunch incredulity because the sights of your wrath need adjusting.

According to Treasury minister David Gauke, it's plumbers who take cash-in-hand payments who are to blame for much of that which is wrong in the UK's tax system.

Such was his ire with these tax-dodgers over the last couple of days that you would think that Mr Gauke was more upset with them than he was with a banking system which lost the run of itself in the lead up to the credit crunch.

Now, we have to tread carefully with Mr Gauke because he's one of the Treasury officials who could help decide whether Northern Ireland is granted the power to set out its own corporation tax.

But, of course, the analogy of the plumber taking a few quid under the table is a little simplistic (not to mention harsh on hard-working plumbers up and down the country) and it seems Mr Gauke was really targeting those using "aggressive tax avoidance schemes" and you can't really fault him for that.

It's not exactly news that people have been trying to avoid tax, but public anger against such schemes certainly seems to be building.

It's probably no coincidence that it comes hot on the heels of the Libor rate-rigging scandal or indeed the revelations from the difficult times at the Anglo Irish Bank. That the bank was lending money to investors on the condition they buy its own stock is wrong on so many levels.

Trying to prop up its own share price amounts to market manipulation and seasoned financial professionals should have known that no one person or business is bigger than market forces. The problem is likely to have been that those financial professionals may not have been seasoned enough, certainly when it comes to dealing in stock markets.

As with the property market, traders who had maybe not been working in the industry at the time of the last bear market or who had short memories, became accustomed to the bull run. They were used to buying shares, holding them and selling them after prices had risen.

But when the long-term rally in global markets came to an end, the same traders or investors weren't equipped to deal with a downtrend which lasted much longer than any could have predicted.

And so many, such as the top dogs at Anglo, became convinced that all they had to do was wait long enough and the share price would recover. If it had, only the 16 investors would have known about the reckless scheme and confidence in the system wouldn't have been eroded to such a degree.

Thankfully it has and it, along with the goings-on at other financial institutions, has prompted government ministers to take a close look at the integrity of all aspects of business, including paying tax.

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