When Lord (Adair) Turner told the FT that there was little new to be learned from publishing the internal FSA report into the near-collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, there was outrage. He was forced into a spin-turn, promising a new report which would be published. He’s done so today, and it’s mostly statements of the bleedin’ obvious.

Once again, the RBS directors look like the patsies they clearly were, and once again, only Johnny Cameron is punished, and CEO Sir Fred Goodwin gets the blame. Yet however familiar they may be, the details are still shocking. As was obvious to some of us at the time, due diligence over the ABN Amro takeover was conspicuous by its absence. Even when the RBS Titanic was headed straight at the iceberg as liquidity froze, the board still saw fit to pay an increased dividend, the financial equivalent of full steam ahead.

To say that the directors, both executive and non-executive, had no idea what was happening below decks is an understatement. Everyone assumed that the markets would always supply cash to the great RBS, come what may. Drawing up a meaningful balance sheet for a bank is never easy, but with the cascade of acquisitions that followed the purchase of NatWest, and which culminated in ABN, it must have been nigh-on impossible. The non-execs on the board did little more than re-affirm their faith in Fred; auditors Deloittes couldn’t handle it, and six FSA supervisors were hopelessly outnumbered.

Turner, advised by the FSA’s lawyers, and battered by those representing directors desperate to avoid public censure or worse, has fallen back on demands for a change in the law to make such things easier. He should get it, and in the current climate probably will. The fact that the directors cannot even be publicly criticised in a 500-page report is a gaping hole in company law.

The report is a good read, if you like this sort of thing, and can set aside thoughts of the £45 billion we have pumped into the battered hulk to keep it afloat. RBS went bust because the market no longer believed it could repay its advances. It didn’t matter how much capital it could claim to have, or how compliant it was to the regulations. Once confidence is gone, so is a bank. Unfortunately, Turner’s remarks to the FT  were about right.

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