LONDON (Reuters) - British singer Billy Bragg has threatened to stop paying taxes, and called on others to follow suit, unless the government acts to limit bonuses paid by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
The 52-year-old singer, well known for his left-wing views and political activism, aims to tap public anger over “fat cat” bonuses at U.S. and British banks rescued with taxpayers’ money during the financial crisis.
The huge bailouts have left the British government holding 84 percent of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and 43 percent of Lloyds Banking Group.
“I understand that the Treasury had little choice but to use taxpayers’ money to safeguard savings and stabilize and restore confidence in the financial system,” Bragg wrote on his page on the Facebook social networking site.
“What I don’t understand is why, now that we taxpayers are the majority shareholders of these banks, we seem totally powerless to curb their excessive bonus culture?”
He quoted reports estimating RBS will pay its investment bankers around 1.5 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) in bonuses next month.
At the same time, he added, Britain’s main political parties are warning voters that national debt will mean tough cuts in public spending after the next general election.
”I believe that the government have their priorities wrong.
“I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), Alistair Darling, to inform him that I am no longer prepared to fund the excessive bonuses of RBS investment bankers. Unless he acts to limit them to 25,000 pounds, I shall be withholding my tax payment on 31st January.” In his Facebook campaign titled “NoBonus4RBS” he invited other British tax payers to do the same to exert pressure on the government to curb bonuses.
RBS has been forced to agree to slash payouts and hand the state a veto on its 2009 bonus pool, but the government has also said that going too far to restrict pay could dent the bank’s ability to compete.
When asked about Bragg’s initiative, a Treasury spokesman said: “We can reassure people there will not be a significant amount of taxpayers’ cash going to bonuses at RBS.”
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato