Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Select committee shuffle

I've spent a few hours at the Treasury committee hearings this week - yesterday was Sir David Walker, today UKFI followed by Paul Myners. I wasn't able to attend the 'show trials' in February when the likes of Fred Goodwin and Andy Hornby gave evidence, and these sessions were much more sparsely attended.

Nonetheless there was some interesting stuff in there. I thought some of what Walker said was quite encouraging. In particular he moved on to talking about shareholder engagement without prompting from the committee. And judging from some of his comments (ie scepticism about engagement in the recent past) he appears to have some idea of the very real challenges in getting investors to take these things seriously. There was no-one there except us from the investor world, which I was surprised about.

Today I was really impressed by John Kingman. His answers were (mostly) very fluent and he came across as very much on top of his area. Which is rather important since he has been in charge of our investments in the banks. He definitely seemed to have a clear idea of who had responsibility for what in the HMT-UKFI-banks interface. UKFI did take a bit of flak for not revealing the bonus pot for 2008 for RBS. And Michael Fallon (rightly) pulled Kingman up at one point for "mandarin-speak" but all in all it was a polished performance. There was some interesting discussion too about the relative weight UKFI puts on representing the taxpayer's interest as shareholder and as bank customer.

Next up came Paul Myners, though we ducked out a bit early when they took a 10 minute break in the meeting as this session it wasn't on a topic of direct relevance to us. Given their recent encounters you might have expected this to be quite a fractious session, but actually what we saw of it was quite good-natured. That said there did seem to be a bit of a crackle in the air between Myners and Fallon.

Finally, the committee itself. I'm quite impressed by John McFall and he was quite punchy today in particular. And generally I had less of a sense of them missing the right questions to ask, whilst asking the 'populist' ones, though obviously I would have asked some different ones myself. It's democracy - a bit messy, doesn't work brilliantly sometimes, but it seems to do the job we want/need doing.

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