Saturday, November 29, 2014

The scandal of Bredbury Hall and the bad banks

I wish I had a pound for every time I've been asked if I miss being a frontline business journalist. I don't, but I recalled the best of times this week when I watched BBC Panorama on Monday night about how Lloyds Bank treated Bredbury Hall Hotel (left). There was also a terrific investigative story on The Business Desk by James Graham.

On Panorama the BBC's Andy Verity and James have dug into what Lloyds inflicted on Bredbury Hall, once one of their former prized clients, featured in a promotional video. First the owners had the squeeze put on them, then their debt was packaged and sold off to a distressed fund.

One of my clients now is Seneca, a business that works hard to unravel the problems of the past in order to help businesses seize the opportunities of the future. That means helping companies who have been sold complex products by banks - often called 'swaps' - and acting for them on redress and assisting them to get back to health. Tim Murphy of Seneca has argued in front of a Treasury Select Committee that this behaviour by banks requires a completely new approach to redress for how the vast bulk of Britain's business can tackle such abuse by their banks.

"Businesses need an ombudsman with teeth, at present only microbusinesses (less than 10 employees and with sales under Euro 2 million) can apply to the Financial Ombudsman Service. Apart from the courts and the banks’ own internal complaints departments there is nowhere for other businesses to go," Tim says in a paper we're releasing next week.

For all his rhetoric Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has been weak on the banks. It's been left to the media and a few campaigning lawyers I've worked with like Alison Loveday at Berg and business organisations like Downtown. Some politicians have acted vigorously on behalf of the constituents - Jack Straw being one - but it's been driven home this week that the media has a positive and important role to play.

Yes, it reminds me of the importance of the media in campaigning. But I wonder if Bredbury Hall could have been better served by their local politicians too.

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