curiosity about the ways of the world

Turning Pirates into Philanthropists?

He never writes, he never calls.  Now more than a week since I emailed Stephen Hester chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland and still no reply. Of course I did not really expect an answer from him, still less that he would buy the idea of transferring £500 million RBS bonus payouts to a philanthropic fund for affordable housing. 

Mr Hester has other things on his mind.

Feature image: The Jolly Roger, as seen on Occupy Edinburgh Facebook page and slightly edited on Ian Fraser’s blog

Newspaper reports say RBS is considering selling off the troublesome investment arm of the business, making perhaps 5,000 people redundant.  But that won’t stop the bonus bonanza this year. According to the Financial Times RBS is determined to go ahead with the bonus payments (whatever David Cameron might say) and the top man at RBS investments, a nicely named John Hourican, stands to gain £4 million.

The injustice is staggering. The arrogance is breathtaking. We own 83% of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Which is why we have both a right and a duty  to keep up the pressure on our bank. At first I was astonished at the response my blog produced [see last post Royal Housing for the Poor], mainly from young people (no other post has attracted so many hits, Facebook comments and tweets, not even the local protest against Tesco).  But I think there are two main reasons: people want banks to be made accountable and they are angry at Britain’s growing inequality. There is a pent-up fury at the unfairness of a system that allows banks to ruin the economy and then pocket the bailout money.

Some encouraging thoughts. Both Malcolm Chisholm MSP and Mark Lazarowicz MP have responded sympathetically and tweeted their support for the idea of asking RBS to invest in a philanthropic fund for building homes (and boosting the economy in the process).

The lasting legacy of the Lewis Trust, still providing affordable homes to buy or rent

From Alex Neil, Scottish Government cabinet minister with responsibility for housing? So far just a confirmation that his office has received my email. (Mr Neil also has plenty of other things on his mind right now – not least his leader’s claim that an independent Scotland would not be responsible for the cost of bailing out RBS).

So what next? On Facebook one comment suggests taking the protest to SEAD, Scottish Education and Action for Development, who held the RBS shareholder “counter conference” to raise awareness of the bank’s involvement with Dirty oil.

But if we are to hold our RBS accountable, if we want to turn our publicly funded pirates into philanthropists, it will take action and energy and relentless determination. Are we up for it?  If you are reading this please leave a comment, or write to your MP and MSP. Oh yes, and send a copy to


  1. Administrator

    I have no illusions that this will make any difference but here is the reply I sent to RBS executive response team.

    Dear Ms Mair

    Thank you for your brief reply on Stephen Hester’s behalf. I am pleased to hear that my email has reached his very busy office.

    I attach, for your interest, the reply I received from the office of Alex Neil, Scottish Government cabinet secretary for infrastructure and capital investment, expressing interest in an idea drawing on the rich tradition of philanthropic funding. I have posted both replies on my blog.

    As a taxpayer and (incidentally) RBS account holder of many years, I feel the public has both a right and a responsibility to hold our publicly owned banks to account. We should expect and require the best of good practice. To me, that does not include making high bonus payments to top executives at a time when so many people are suffering the consequences of bankers’ mistakes.

    I know people who have lost houses and jobs, I know severely disabled people facing welfare cuts, I know the director of one small company who has not paid himself for two months so he can keep young staff on the payroll. I suspect such harsh realities of life do not make it to the executive floor of RBS.

    thank you again for your reply


  2. John

    Well Rebecca works hard for her money!

  3. Fay

    And from Stephen Hester’s office: a brief note. Oddly it arrived just minutes after I posted the Cabinet Secretary’s reponse on Twitter. Mr Hester’s proposed bonus of over £1m is likely to be the subject of debate in the House of Commons next week.

    Dear Ms Young

    Many thanks for your e-mail of 5 January 2012 addressed to Stephen Hester. As a member of the Executive Response Team, Stephen has asked me to respond to you on his behalf.

    Thank you for taking the time to write, your comments have been noted. I would like to thank you for approaching the Royal Bank of Scotland Group and appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us.

    Yours sincerely

    Rebecca Mair
    Executive Response Team

    The Royal Bank of Scotland plc, Registered in Scotland No. 90312. Registered Office: 36 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh EH2 2YB

  4. Fay

    Well, I underestimated Alex Neil, a much more finely tuned response than I expected. I had thought he would say words to the effect of: ‘would love to help but hands tied by Westminster’, Instead he cleverly slips in a political puff for ‘National Homes’ (or council houses as we used to call them) along with encouraging support for philanthropic revival and (perhaps) some interest in innovative thinking. It will be interesting to see if this appears in political debate. Meanwhile, I will send the Cabinet Secretary’s reply to the Chief Executive of RBS.

    Housing and Regeneration and the
    Commonwealth Games Directorate
    Housing Sustainability and Innovative Finance Division

    T: 0131-244 6522 F: 0131-244 7486

    Ms Fay Young

    Our ref: 2012/0000578
    18 January 2012

    Dear Ms Young

    Thank you for bringing your letter to Mr.Hester to the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment’s attention. I have been asked by Mr Neil to reply on his behalf.

    Faced with heavy constraints on public finances, the Scottish Government is committed to finding new and innovative ways to fund affordable housing to help those, including young people, on lower incomes. We have been successful in developing a range of new approaches involving the financial sector to achieve this – examples include our National Housing Trust initiative which provides affordable homes for below market rent and our shared equity schemes providing homes for low cost home ownership.

    We are always keen to encourage our partners to engage with the innovation agenda and are interested in ideas, such as yours, that draw on the rich tradition of philanthropic funding.
    We welcome the fact that you, and the wider public, are engaging in the discussion on affordable housing in this way and appreciate you bringing your idea to our attention.

    The Scottish Government is committed to encouraging business to contribute positively to society, in whatever form this might take and, in light of that, we would be interested to see Mr.Hester’s response to you.

    Alistair Paddison
    Financial Innovation Unit
    Housing, Regeneration and the Commonwealth Games
    Scottish Government

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