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Editor’s blog Monday 19 October 2009: Bill Moyes - next stop, the FSA?

Bill Moyes has had a good war as executive chair of independent foundation trust regulator Monitor, a job he will stop doing in January 2010.

He survived witless complaints about his expenses; rode out the consequences of Mid-Staffordshire FT’s ignominious patient-killing activities (for failing to notice which, sadly, the Healthcare Commission escaped proper scrutiny); got at least a draw in his public feud with David Nicholson; and has generally been an effective appointer and supervisor of FTs, which remain the best-performing trusts.

Reliable sources have suggested that Moyes’ next destination is thedeclared no political affiliation, but has warned of Parliament provoking ministerial meddling in FTs' independence, which may not go down too badly with the Camerooons.

A smart fit for the nu-FSA?
Moyes' background is in banking. When I  re-read my interview with him in 2006 for . He has been proven quite correct.

Likewise, on productivity, Moyes said, "in the next two or three years, improving productivity is going to be a key issue to the next stage of NHS reform, and I think a regulator has a part to play in that". Idem.

Finally, the credit crunch has lent enormous relevance to an anecdote Moyes used about regulation: "I've been saying to the DH ... that back when the Bank of England supervised the UK banking system, the Governor's stated policy was to maintain confidence int he banking system, so the BoE would go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that solutions were always in place by the time problems (like Barings) reached the public domain - if they did. I'm sure lots of little problems ... never came out and were just sorted, so that savers and overseas investors could have total confidence in the integrity of British banking.

"We should take the same approach in the NHS: I think it's quite important that we maintain public confidence in the quality of healthcare, while not allowing that to dictate sub-optimal management".

Regulating finance and the public sector
One source, discussing Moyes’ exit, suggested that he’d “had enough of public sector”. I’m not sure this is true: if he goes to the FSA, he will be dealing with one entirely nationalised bank in Northern Rock, and others (most notably Lloyds HBOS) which have major government shareholdings.

Moyes is a shrewd man, and will not have contemplated any such move without having read the FSA’s 2009 risk outlook document.

This states, “The scale of the financial crisis has also created uncertainty over the future shape of the financial system and in particular the banking system, which the FSA in the future will be regulating. It also means we need to review regulation within the UK and in association with our international counterparts, to assess whether major changes are required in regulatory policies which are used to contain financial risks”.

Who’s there now
The current top team at the FSA is chair Adair Turner. Turner is ex-McKinsey (where he worked with William Hague), and ex-DG of the CBI, where he earned the nicknamne ‘Red’ Adair for steering away from Conservatives).

Turner’s contribution to this round-table feature in Prospect magazine on the future of the banking industry generated considerable controversy. He called for a Tobin tax on share transactions, and described the activives of some banks as “socially useless”.

The FSA’s chief executive officer since July 2007 (though working there since 2004) is Hector Sants. This interesting interview with The Guardian, dating from 2005, has fascinating references to his interest in the activities of hedge funds and un-named other players as market risks.

Sants told the journalist, “It is not realistically possible for us to be successful in our deterrent objectives if [we are] solely reliant on our own resources."

The importance of effective regulation of the banking sector could not be greater to the funding of the NHS. If the sources have got this right, and if the FSA employ Moyes, they will be hiring a highly competent and independent individual.

It seems a plausible and sensible fit. It will be interesting to see what happens on this one.