Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

I wouldn't like to bank on taxpayers getting fair deal

High oil prices are making some people a fortune

It may be bad news for you and me that oil prices are set to spiral upwards again as a result of the Libya crisis. But the rich are roaring for the rise to continue.

Take Adrian Heavy of Tullow. He's just made close on €150m (£129m), having got in early on exploration of new oil finds in Central and West Africa, where savage wars rage over resources while profits from the same resources gush into the oil firms' coffers.

Then there's Oisin Fanning, also Dublin-based, who a year ago was reportedly on his uppers and threatened with eviction. He's bounced back. Revolution in the Middle East has seen his shares in San Leon Energy rocket. He's €234m (£201m) richer than 12 months ago.

In the Sunday Independent at the weekend, Nick Webb estimated that the 300 richest people in the Republic are now worth €57bn (£49bn) between them - commodity price rises being a major factor in the bonanza.

There are now 11 billionaires from the cash-strapped little country to our south. Some have to live abroad to escape the grasping hands of the greedy State, occasionally sending messages home that more nurses must be sacked to help make the country competitive again.

(By living abroad, we mean that they stay overnight within the jurisdiction for no more than a cumulative six months a year. All of them have earned the trust of the immigration services, given that, as it turns out, there are no procedures for checking them in and out as they flit around the skies and touch down here and there in private jets. As you do.)

JP McManus's nags may be worth a punt at this week's Cheltenham Festival. The Limerick man is on a good run and must have high hopes of returning to his Monaco pad - or possibly, depending on how many days he has spent on the old sod recently, to his 250-acre property in Emly in Limerick.

And speaking of good wins - let's turn to the latest twists in the fortunes of Sir Frederick Goodwin, better known as Fred the Shred, who sashayed away from the Royal Bank of Scotland in October 2008 with £10m in the hip-pocket and a pension of £700,000 a year: within a month, RBS had reported a loss of £24.1bn, the biggest financial failure in British history.

In the immediate aftermath, Treasury Minister Lord Myners warned RBS, now the recipient of a taxpayer-funded bailout which was eventually to give the State a 83% holding, that there must be "no reward for failure".

So a chastened company was made to change its ways? No. The Shred's successor Stephen Hasler has been handed £10m for his efforts last year. A further billion has been set aside for bonuses for managers. A kick in the teeth for the PAYE sector?

But apparently it's precisely the fact that the taxpayers own the company which justifies the bonuses. "Taxpayers have a stake in RBS and we want it to succeed," London-based top-of-the range headhunter John Purcell, explains. "It might be socially disturbing, but... I think we've just got to suck it up. That's the way it is."

There are "bucketloads" of firms where bankers could earn more if they chose.

All this - and there's more, much more - comes just months after the guardians of the public purse warned in stern tones that big bonuses in banking must a thing of the past.

"It is wholly untenable to have millions of people making sacrifices in their living standards only to see the banks getting away scot-free - the banks should not be under any illusion: this Government cannot stand idly by" - Nick Clegg, November 17 last.

"We will not allow money to flow unimpeded out of those banks into huge bonuses, if that means money is not flowing out in credit to the small businesses who did nothing to cause this crash and suffered most in it" - George Osborne, October 4.

"I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than (union leader) Bob Crow could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies" - Vince Cable, September 22.

What a huge wave of laughter must have engulfed the super-rich. North, South, East and West, capitalism reckons that the notion of fairness is away with the fairies.

Can any reader think of a reason the rest of us should suck this up, shouldn't draw the conclusion that plain citizens of the UK or the Republic who compliantly accept the austerity cuts are fools to themselves and their families?

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