British PM David Cameron fights ‘anti-business’ mood

Stephen Beard Feb 23, 2012

Adriene Hill: The European debt crisis is hitting investment banks where it counts: their balance sheets. Several of Europe’s biggest banks are reporting billion dollar losses today. One of them: the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is government-owned after a bailout during the financial crisis. And yet, banks are handing out billions in bonuses and getting a lot of flack for it. Now, British Prime Minister David Cameron is coming to the banks’ defense.

Marketplace’s Stephen Beard joins us now live from London to explain. Good morning.

Stephen Beard: Hello Adriene.

Hill: So what’s Cameron saying?

Beard: He’s speaking up for that much maligned and deeply misunderstood breed, the rich and immensely well-paid people who run big business in Britain. He’s saying business is the most powerful force for social progress the world has known, making our lives better, longer, and happier. But he says there’s a dangerous anti-business sentiment gaining ground in Britain.

Hill: Now that sounds a little bit like the debate going on here in the U.S. between the left and right. How much of anti-business mood is actually there in the U.K.?

Beard: Well, I don’t think there is one, really. There’s an anti-banker mood. There’s certainly anti-bonus sentiment; but not anti-business. However, I would say, at a time when incomes are under pressure, the U.K.’s flirting with recession, there is some resentment towards company bosses who award themselves fat salaries and big bonuses, even when their companies are not doing that well.

Debra Hargreaves is monitoring what she calls these “excesses.” She runs a think tank called the High Pay Center — where it can be safely assumed the staff are not highly paid. Here’s what she has to say:

Debra Hargreaves: People see business leaders at the very top of these companies, and they see them feathering their own nests and I think it infringes the public sense of fairness.

And, she points out, last year, the chief executives of Britain’s top 100 companies had an average pay hike of 49 percent, compared with 2 percent for the rest of us.

Hill: Marketplace’s Stephen Beard in London, thanks.

Beard: OK Adriene.

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