Page last updated at 12:20 GMT, Sunday, 19 October 2008 13:20 UK

'It's not as bad as the 1970s'

Billions of pounds of government money have been poured into banks worst hit in the credit crunch, in an attempt to stabilise the global financial crisis.

Sir Brian Pitman, former chief executive of Lloyds TSB Group, remembers the troubled days of the mid-1970s and tells BBC One's Andrew Marr programme things are not as bad as they were 35 years ago.

Sir Brian Pitman
Sir Brian Pitman worked for Lloyds TSB Group for nearly 50 years
"We've been in a much worse position than we are today.

"People are getting unbelievably gloomy, but I have been around long enough to remember the 70s when we had to have the IMF [International Monetary Fund bail-out], we had a three-day working week, we had candles in rooms and we couldn't get home by train.

"We are not going to have that."

Asked who was to blame for the current global economic crisis, Sir Brian said banks must shoulder some responsibility.

"The banks are partly to blame. There's no doubt about that. Not wholly to blame, but partly to blame."

But, he explained, some institutions had been "much more reckless than others".

"What we've had is that some banks have been willing to lend 125% of a mortgage. If in fact you pay 100,000 for a house - if you can get one for that amount of money - and you lend them 125,000 then don't be surprised if that leads to trouble."

'Walking on water'

He said he believed the main reason for any struggling business was poor management.

"I chaired a survey a few years ago about why companies fail.

"The main reason was one word; hubris - overconfidence, the belief that you can walk on water. It's very difficult to control those sort of people.


Governments think in terms of billions, the market thinks in terms of trillions. And this has been one of the great frustrations for politicians

"At the end of the day, it is the chairman and the chief executive who control. If you choose the right chairman and chief executive you will not get into so much trouble."

Successful staff should still be rewarded, he said, adding that it was unlikely 2007's 17bn in bonus payouts would be repeated this year.

"Generally speaking, the bonuses are based on the corporate performance - the performance of the company as a whole, your divisional performance and your individual performance.

"Now the odds are that not many companies are going to make more profit in 2008 than 2007, but many companies made more profit in 2007 than they did in 2006."

'Stopping the rot'

The government's 50bn bail-out of UK banks was the right thing to do, he said, and would help keep deposits in the country.

"When the Irish introduced this guarantee for deposits, deposits were flowing out of the UK into Ireland and other places, but I believe the action that's been taken will stop the rot."

London currency traders
Traders have been feeling the effects of the credit crunch

However, Sir Brian said the size of the bail-out was not considered large in markets terms and banks were still reluctant to lend to each other.

"Well 50bn is not very much in relation to a trillion. That's what people have to learn. If we look at the world markets, over the past 20 years the markets have grown much faster than the national economies - much, much faster.

"So that governments think in terms of billions, the market thinks in terms of trillions. And this has been one of the great frustrations for politicians.

"They've found that the Bank of England has reduced the interest rate but the interest rate has not come down for lending."

'We will recover'

Despite the economic downturn and the widespread blaming of bankers for the current crisis, Sir Brian believed it was "totally unrealistic" to believe pay could be capped.

"If you cap pay in the UK, where are the brains going to to go? Where is the enterprise going to come from?

"We've got to get back to a situation where the markets drive these things again because the markets have been good for the communities in the world.


If you have too heavy-handed regulation you will kill enterprise - kill it

"It's the markets which have improved global trade...it's the global trade which has created the wealth all over the world."

Asked how bad the current crisis would get, he said it was difficult to assess because it was global and on a much greater scale than seen before. But he added he had "very great confidence" the economy would recover.

"I don't think it is anything like as bad as the 70s. We're not going to go on to three-day working weeks and we haven't got that massive inflation we had in the 70s."





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