Axed Barclays boss Bob Diamond came out fighting during a grilling by the MPs of the Treasury Select Committee, soaking up three hours of questioning in which he repeatedly expressed anger and sorrow over the bank’s manipulation of the LIBOR interest rate.
Astonishingly, Diamond claimed that the first he heard about the activities of rogue traders – who had attempted to alter rates to benefit their trading positions – was two weeks ago, when the FSA and US authorities hit the bank with fines of £290m. He inferred that he’d been assured that any issues around the under-reporting of LIBOR rates at the height of the banking crisis of 2008 had been resolved by lower layers of management.
In a further surprise move, Diamond declined to criticise Bank of England deputy governor Paul Tucker, after fevered speculation that the government of the time had encouraged the “low-balling” of figures. Diamond suggested that Tucker was merely pointing out that its rivals were under-reporting, rather than instructing Barclays to do the same – although it was then interpreted as such and acted on by one of Diamond’s lieutenants Jerry del Missier, based at the firm’s investment-banking arm Barclays Capital.
Diamond was unequivocally regretful about the first “style” of manipulation by the rogue traders – and the MPs’ criticism of a “slack management culture”, a bank too big to manage, or even Diamond being “either complicit … grossly negligent or grossly incompetent”, seemed relatively fair under the circumstances. While the complexity of the affair surely begs the wide-ranging judicial inquiry called for by Ed Miliband, prime minister David Cameron has rejected the proposal in favour of a smaller parliamentary inquiry. If all the banks were lying – and, despite what Diamond claims to believe – being encouraged to do so by the central bank, this could open up a whole new area of connections between government and financial institutions, in the same way that the Leveson Inquiry has laid bare the all-too-cosy relationship between politicians and the media.
A director with Vision?
Mark Thompson’s successor as BBC director general will be George Entwistle, the corporation has announced. His selection, ahead of BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson and Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards, was welcomed by the current encumbent, who hailed it “a brilliant appointment” – and comes as an early birthday present for Entwistle, who turns 50 on Sunday.
Described by BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten as “a creative leader for a creative organisation”, Entwistle brings to the role vast programme-making experience, having graduated from previous roles producing Panorama, On The Record and Newsnight. Over the past 14 months, he has developed his overview of corporation activities as director of BBC Vision, the arm of the broadcaster responsible for BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4 and the features outfit BBC Films. As Professional Manager reported in January, the BBC is having to tighten its belt in an era of government-enforced austerity, and this is sure to pose a challenge to the quality of its output. In tandem, the salary for Entwistle’s role has fallen by more than £200,000 to a relatively sober £450,000.
Entwistle will need all of his creative skills to ensure that the BBC continues to compete with imported American shows, and all of his PR and political talents to cope with the firefighting needed at a corporation under constant attack from a complaining public and hostile government. He will have some idea of what to expect after high-profile criticism of parts of the BBC’s Jubilee coverage, which came under his watch. He will surely understand that this will be the first of many upcoming battles.
Better late than never…
Lord Sugar’s much-delayed but much-vaunted internet TV service YouView finally saw the light of day this week. The project, which combines Freeview channels with on-demand content, has been under the garrulous entrepreneur’s watchful eye for the past year, after a run of delays prevented it from launching as planned in 2010. Essentially the service is a non-subscription version of Sky Plus and Virgin’s TiVo services, and will require a set-top box – currently manufactured solely by Humax. Customers can either buy a box at an initial retail price of £299, or for a cheaper sum via Internet Service Providers (ISPs) when signing up to one of their broadband packages. Once it has been purchased, viewers can then pause and rewind live TV, or access programmes broadcast on ITV, BBC, Channel 4 and Channel Five franchises over the previous week. In addition to the main channels, over 100 digital TV and radio channels are also represented. A rumoured 300 more have expressed interest in getting onboard.
Reaction was hugely varied. Some experts saw it as a way for ISPs such as BT to compete again with Virgin Media and Sky’s all-in-one packages. Others saw it as a “Johnny-come-lately” effort, as many smart TVs already have the ability to access similar features, such as BBC’s iPlayer, Channel 4’s 4-OD, or content from those channels featured on YouTube. Price was also a sticking point: Lord Sugar’s claim that the initial price tag would soon fall to £99 did not obscure the fact that the initial high charge is likely to slow the early sales which were meant to enable that reduction. Also noted was a glaring technical omission: the absence of a WiFi facility on the box, meaning that it would require an ethernet cable to work – something that could be problematic in households where the router is not in a main room.
Despite Sugar’s indefatigable posturing on The Apprentice, he has a mixed record with product launches. For every Amstrad computer success story, there is an E3 videophone misfire. However, YouView’s £70m development fee – of which the BBC has contributed £10m – is relatively cheap, and the service follows in the footsteps of Freeview’s popularity, which has spurred sales of 20 million boxes. If it is indeed simple to use, and if the price comes down soon, it may well reach a large majority of people keen for more flexible, free-to-air viewing without the need for a subscription.