Extract from Executive Summary
A fair deal for taxpayers?
Banks occupy a unique position in our economy and enjoy privileges that other industries can never hope for. This is most obvious in the way that major banks – Northern Rock, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Lloyds TSB – were bailed out by the government during the financial crisis, moves that have prompted a great deal of public concern.
But these bail-outs were just the tip of the iceberg. All the large banks also benefit from an implicit subsidy from taxpayers; because they will be bailed out, if necessary, markets view lending to them as low risk. This report quantifies this ‘too big to fail’ (TBTF) subsidy using methodology developed by the Bank of England. We found that while the TBTF subsidy has fallen from its mid-2009 peak, the ‘big five’ UK banks still enjoyed a combined TBTF subsidy of £46 billion in 2010. The TBTF subsidy in the UK is 62 per cent higher than in Germany, despite the latter having a significantly larger economy.
Barclays, Lloyds, RBS, HSBC, and Nationwide enjoyed subsidies of £10 billion, £15 billion, £13 billion, £7 billion, and £1 billion respectively. Whilst the government does not transfer these funds directly to the banks, it does pay for the subsidy indirectly through its own borrowing costs, which increase to reflect the additional risk it is taking on board.
This is not all, banks benefit from further special treatment:
- No VAT. Banks and other financial services enjoy exemption from VAT which likely saves them billions of pounds each year.
- Subsidised deposit insurance. In addition to bailing out a number of banks, taxpayers bailed out the UK’s deposit guarantee scheme to the tune of £19 billion during the financial crisis. The government does not promise to pay the debts of non-financial companies when they fail.
- Access to the Bank of England as lender-of-last-resort. Banks can borrow from the central bank when other banks will not lend to them. There is no such lender of last resort for other industries.
- Privatised gains and socialised losses. Taxpayers are deeply out of pocket not just for the bank bail-out, but also £5 billion per year in ongoing financing charges for these schemes. This is not helped by corporation tax cuts, which are likely to cancel out revenue brought in by the recently introduced Bank Levy.
The ICB’s primary prescription for tackling the TBTF issue is to ring-fence retail banking from investment banking activities. Yet the Commission admits that ringfencing will only reduce and not eliminate the subsidy.
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