Friday, 26 February 2010

On banking bonuses and the nature of work

Stephen Hester, of RBS has just announced that he will waive his bonus in spite of the fact that according to his Chief Executive, Sir Philip Hampton, Hester outperformed the targets set. In this, Hester is following in the footsteps of John Varley and Bob Diamond from Barclays who also waived their bonuses although their bank reported an £11.6 billion profit. It is all very well and good, that high powered executives can afford to forfeit financial incentives. However, the issue is not about a few people acting magnanimously. The issue is about a culture that sees financial rewards as the one and only way to reward job performance.

It is clear that although money is an important motivator it is not the only motivator for people to excel in their job. There is also plenty of research that links increased job mobility of top performers within the banking sector to pay differentials. In other words, in a highly competitive sector, high performers will tend to switch jobs lured by financial incentives. A spiralling salary and bonus situation is then almost inevitable. Is this where we want to go?

It makes sense that our banking sector should hire the best possible people for the job and that they should be rewarded for their performance. However there are many reasons besides putting bread on the table that motivate people to go to work every morning. For example, there are learning opportunities; the contacts with colleagues; the development of personal networks and social capital; the intellectual challenge of negotiating a difficult problem etc. In short, the satisfaction of a job well done that contributes to society. To look merely at financial incentives devalues the nature of the cooperative, human experience of going to work and negates the fact that “man does not live by bread alone”.

Our society could be much improved by recognising that although the outcomes of work are important, the conditions and processes leading to those outcomes are also important. I believe that a more egalitarian workplace, family supportive policies, flexibility in work schedules, job stability and more control over the work performed are non-monetary compensations that can be extremely attractive to high achievers as well as to the thousands of people that work in the banking sector.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Climate change & Britain's Public Debt: A Public Meeting

Rich countries have grown wealth through a model of development that has pushed the planet to the brink of climate crisis. It is the poor communities, those least responsible for climate change who are already facing its worst impacts. In a world with a limited capacity to absorb carbon, rich countries have already used more than their fair share. We now owe a huge climate debt to the world’s poorest people.

A public meeting with Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP, Secretary of state for International Development
Deborah Doane, Director of the World Development Movement
Rev. Ian Galloway, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council

Friday 19th March 6-7.30 pm
At the Wynd centre 6 School Wynd Paisley

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

It was not just about the money: Lloyds TSB Foundation in Scotland

THE Lloyds Banking Group announced today it is to stop funding its charitable arm the Lloyds TSB Foundation in Scotland bringing a 25-year-relationship that has seen £85 million donated to Scottish charities.

But it is so much more than that. Despite being one of the largest grant giving trusts in Scotland, the Lloyds TSB foundation was never just about the money. In my own parish in the Gorbals, I have direct experience of the relationships they have forged with those they funded, adding value to their own financial support and making it go further. It has enabled many in truly dire and unglamorous circumstances to gain confidence in their own abilities and has shown faith in the vision of those people.

Lloyds TSB Foundation understood that in the fragile places where much of their money went, the change hoped for and the change achieved was not always the same thing. For those amongst our poorest communities, even small steps can lead to big successes, and this meant that that potential of street-level work has not been overlooked by the foundation.

The economic situation has already hurt millions of people who cannot afford to fight back. They haven’t the means to. And now with the destruction of the Lloyds TSB Foundation, salt will be rubbed into the already painful wounds of those affected. It is frankly, unacceptable and shameful behaviour from a bank.

So you see, it was never about money for us, it was about communities having a better chance and a better story. Lloyds Banking Group has taken that away today.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The March against Racism

Last week I was at the march against racism in Scotland. It was really good to sense the energy coming from all participants united to fight against corrosive influences that seek to divide our society. What is important is to fight against all the elements that work against the cohesion of our communities.

The census of 2001 stated that Scotland is home to 43,000 Muslims concentrating in Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh. The age profile of this population is much younger than that of the white population. Immigrants from Central Europe have followed. It is clear that Scotland is now a place of many cultures and it is vital that our different communities do not live parallel existences feeling segregated and polarized.

We must work to develop a common vision and a sense of belonging for all communities, where diversity of background is appreciated and valued and where everyone, regardless of religion or race gets access to similar life opportunities. This is really just another way of saying “ Love your neighbour as yourself”.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Many cultures in Scotland

Is there racism in Scotland? My gut reactions is to answer, “of course not” and yet, Learning and Teaching Scotland documents in its website case studies where racist attitudes seem to be prevalent in our society and in particular, in our schools. There is plenty of research showing a small but steadily increasing number of indicators pointing towards Scotland becoming a society less tolerant of its visible minorities. Ethnic Pakistanis constitute the largest visible minority in Scotland although they are less than 1% of its population. The Scottish Defence League is preparing an anti-Islamic march in Edinburgh within the next few days. Why?

It is possible that in times of economic crisis, the need to find a scapegoat might seem overwhelming, however, there is plenty of evidence pointing out that racism is passed on through cultural attitudes. It is crucial that we remain vigilant against passing on values that favour inequality and discrimination. The Scottish Government anti-racism campaign through its One Scotland website has plenty of good examples on how to tackle racism in its different guises.

Last year, I participated in a demonstration against right wing agitators in Glasgow. This year, my voice will be heard against them as well.

Migration matters to Scotland

Aleksander Kudajczyk played Chopin last Sunday at the University of Glasgow. Mr. Kudajcsyk lives and works and Scotland. However, not too long ago, he was a cleaner in the law department at the University. He asked one day if he could play the piano at the University Chapel. The rest is as they say… history. In Poland, Aleksander had been a music student at one of Poland’s most renowned music schools and in the words of Stuart MacQuarrie, the University Chaplain. he played “exquisite Chopin”.

Mr. Kudajczyk represents the new wave of immigration to Scotland, young, skilled and contributing to his/her country of residence. Migration matters. Traditionally, Scotland has been a country of emigration; the outflow of human capital has inevitably depleted this country of brain power and economic potential. Our fertility is below replacement levels. This means that there are not enough young people to carry the burden of an ageing society.

However, since 2004 Scotland has been a net importer of people. The introduction of the points system for immigration and the Fresh Start programme clearly favour highly skilled immigrants. Much research points to the social and economic benefits of this migration. We must not, however, forget our moral duty to offer shelter for asylum seekers irrespective of their qualifications since all immigrants contribute their skills, their culture and their unique view of the world to the benefit of everyone in Scotland.

Monday, 15 February 2010

On the effectiveness of torture

Is information extracted under torture reliable? The evidence seems to be contradictory. Prisoners under torture might give away any kind of unreliable information, just to provide some respite from the pain. The inadmissibility of information obtained under torture was upheld by a unanimous decision of the House of Lords.

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2009 affirmed that the use of torture or ‘enhanced interrogation’ is to be deplored under any circumstance. The awareness of the British Intelligence Services of some of the conditions under which the interrogation of Mr. Binyam Mohammed were taking place abroad, leads to an important question. Is it morally justifiable to be aware of the conditions under which certain information has been extracted and do nothing? Eliza Manningham-Buller former Director general of MI 5 stated when questioned by the House of Lords on the use of information acquired in other countries by torture stated 'We're not going to ask, because that would make things difficult.’ David Milliband stated that the UK “is firmly opposed to the use of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment”. It seems clear that no UK officials were involved in torture, but does silence in the knowledge of the abusive and illegal conditions under which certain prisoners are interrogated not make us morally co-participants? Where does our moral integrity stand?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

For once a popular tax

The idea of imposing a tax on foreign currency bank transactions was proposed by Nobel laureate economics professor James Tobin. The tax was meant to discourage speculation and had the potential of raising a tidy sum of money. The tax has had a long history of proponents like Lawrence Summers top economic advisor to the Obama administration and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Head of the International Monetary Fund. Sadly it has never been put in practice. Current proposals under the “Robin Hood Tax" campaign suggest levying 0.05 of speculative transactions – not high street banking- to raise funds in the order to £100 billion pounds.

Now, let us think what could be done with this kind of money if the banks were taxed something like .50p for £1000 of speculative transactions? Some of the money could be used to help vulnerable countries adjust to the problems of climate change. We could improve access to health and education in some of the poorest countries in the world. We could help rebuild devastated areas in Haiti which is currently estimated to be around 12 billion dollars…. With the spare change, we might even be able to eradicate child poverty right here in Scotland.

What an outlandish thought.