Varley good, John of Barclays

It’s always left to the good ones: Barclays chief John Varley has apologised for the banking crisis, despite Barclays being one of the few big banks not to take the taxpayer’s lifeline.

I bank with Barclays, and part of the reason I’ve stayed there is that Varley seems a good guy – like his bank, he’s honest and dependable, which is all you really want from a bank. (We KNOW that when the crunch hits they’re all bastards; it’s just what you expect at other times.) He’s not taking a bonus this year – even though, with £6.1bn in profits, he’s entitled to one – but has defended the bonuses for his staff on the shopfloor (if not the trading floor.)

This last is just about acceptable, coming from a bank that hasn’t raided the Treasury to satisfy its own creditworthiness. The trouble is, RBS and Lloyds – now largely nationalised – are saying similar things: the board won’t take a bonus but some of the shopfloor staff will.

Many fuzzy thinkers would say they’re right. After all, the cashiers and backoffice workers aren’t responsible for the credit crunch. But that’s not the point.

They work for… a failed business. And when your employer fails, you don’t get a bonus; you don’t even keep your job. Perhaps the cashiers and backroom bods should be reminded that without a publicly funded lifeline, THEY WOULD ALL BE STANDING IN THE DOLE QUEUE.

Bonuses are so much a part of banking life that bank staff feel they’re an automatic entitlement; they’re not. They’re a reward if your business does well, an incentive for performance. It may sound harsh – cashiers and secretaries in banks are not well-paid – but that’s life. Their business failed, and NOBODY in a publicly rescued bank should be getting any bonus. Life is harsh. Deal with it.

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