Examination of Witnesses

Part of Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:11 pm on 19th November 2020.

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Jesse Griffiths:

One of the main issues that we would have loved to have seen in the Bill—I recognise that it would be outside the scope to introduce it now—is a proportionate regulatory regime for mutual banks. One thing that is important, or one problem that is very evident in the UK financial sector, is its lack of diversity of institutions. Across Europe, co-operative banks have an average of more than 25% of assets, and in the UK they were not even legal until 2014. The mutual banking movement is now trying to establish that vital part of the system that would help to improve services for customers, improve competitiveness and bring important countercyclical and social and environmental benefits. That would have been nice, given that the Bill recognises that there is a need for a different regime for investment firms from banks, for example. There is a huge unmet need for a more proportionate regime for those institutions. That would be my wish list of what might have been in the Bill. Perhaps as part of the Bill discussions, we might get a commitment to consult on such a proportionate regime.

Of course, the other point to make here—to repeat some of the points we have made about social and environmental purpose and accountability—is that the main issues with the Bill are the things that are missing that could make it much more ambitious and set a much better precedent for financial sector regulation going forward.

Finally, one issue that is worrying to us is the danger of a return to framing the purpose of financial regulation as being about the competitiveness of the UK financial sector globally. That appears in a few places in the Government’s explanatory notes to the Bill. The key point is to make a distinction between competition, which is good, and competitiveness, which can be dangerous when applied as a principle for regulation. Framing regulation within that competitiveness framework is widely recognised as one of the main contributors to the global financial crisis. It was easy to make the case for relaxing regulation to make any particular financial sector more competitive compared with others, when actually I think what we want to establish, through the Bill and other actions, is that the UK financial sector will seek to set high standards and to be the leader in that, not to introduce a competitiveness framing that raises the risk of standards being lowered.