24 Jan 2009

British banks were 'very close' to collapse

5:22 pm on 24 January 2009

A British minister has revealed that the banking system there was under severe strain in October. "We were very close on Friday, October 10," City Minister Paul Myners is quoted as saying on the website of The Times.

Mr Myners says there were two or three hours when things felt very bad, nervous and fragile, as major depositors sought to withdraw their money from several large banks.

Shortly afterwards, the government unveiled a massive rescue package to shore up confidence and strengthen bank capital reserves.

The minister accused banks of having been mismanaged and their bosses of having been overpaid, though he did not name any.

"I have met more masters of the universe than I would like to," he said, "people who were grossly over-rewarded and did not recognise that. Some of that is pretty unpalatable.

"They are people who have no sense of the broader society around them. There is quite a lot of annoyance and much of that is justified."

Root cause of crisis 'pretty clear'

Britain's chief finance minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, also says it's "pretty clear" that the root cause of the crisis was a failure in the banking system.

But in an interview with the BBC's Newsnight TV programme he said it was pointless to blame individuals at the moment. Britain and other countries needed to get lending going again and ensure that money was put in the economy to support businesses.

The comments came on the same day in which official figures showed that Britain had entered recession and that the economy was likely to contract further.