A remarkable analysis of the current financial malaise took place on October 8th when Will Hutton confirmed his status as one of the country’s leading commentators on economic and political affairs.
Despite being the casualty of a delayed train from Paddington, Will merely removed his coat and spoke for fifty minutes without a single note, before taking questions. Will fleshed out his latest book, called Them and Us, which examines in part what he calls the gambling culture which bankers built up in recent times, with no moral borders, leading to the government baling them out to the tune of billions. He suggests that the country has paid enormously for running its capitalism “so unfairly”.
He referred to what he sees as “good capitalism” – entrepreneurship providing goods and services, so creating jobs. But he also highlighted “poor capitalism”, which offers rewards out of all proportion for the skill and effort put in - the rewards of a gambler..
In the public sector, he also detailed the thousands of people paid far more than the Prime Minister, and who, in some cases, were perceived to be rewarded too highly. Yet he highlighted the chief constable of Cleveland, who locals feel earns every penny of his £209,000 per annum salary because he has reduced crime so dramatically in the area.
And many parents at a south London primary school feel that the head-teacher justifies his £200,000-plus salary because of the way he had turned round the school and given life-chances to so many children from deprived backgrounds. Prime Minister David Cameron last May invited Will to head an inquiry into top-level public sector pay and his report in the coming months should make compelling reading.
Ultimately, Will called for a “fairer” system of rewards at a time when bankers in the City are set to avoid themselves bonuses totalling over £7 billion, even though some contributed in part to leading the economy to point of collapse. In one chilling sequences, Will recounted how – exactly two years to the day – the Royal Bank of Scotland had come within hours of being unable to service its cash-point machines and customers would have been left without money indefinitely.
However, he remained optimistic that Britain could still emerge as a world leader in the advance of technology, as it has done so often in the past, notably with the railways, shipping, textiles and communications. He predicted that the UK could consolidate its position as a cutting-edge country, with more major scientific developments given to the world in the coming decades.
Will sold £220 worth of books, supplied by the Woodstock Bookshop, which The Independent newspaper has just listed as one of the best 50 independent bookshops in the country. The following day, Will was due to be at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was one of four guest directors, and so we were particularly grateful that he found time to make a detour to Wootton.
Will's delayed arrival allowed everybody to indulge in the consumption of a little more wine. The increased sale totalled £66, giving an overall profit from the evening of £556.
What a brilliantly lucid and revelatory talk from Will Hutton. He cast new light on the often-murky world of finance and came up with some unnerving findings. It is good to know that Prime Minister David Cameron has asked Will to head an inquiry into top-level pay in the public sector - he clearly has the ear of the government and it is to be hoped they listen to his ideas on this sector, as well as bringing in measures to control excessive rewards in the City - Alan Peacock, Oxford
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