Monday 17 February 2020 6:30 am

Barclays and Downing St have some thinking to do

Once is unfortunate, twice could be coincidence but three times starts to look like a pattern.

We can now say Jes Staley’s unfortunate habit for gathering eyebrow-raising headlines certainly looks like the latter.

The latest is the controversy surrounding his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and two watchdogs’ investigation into whether he was entirely transparent about that acquaintance in disclosures to the board of Barclays.

We cannot pre-judge these investigations, and Staley is adamant that he was at all times “transparent and open,” but it is now known that he remained on friendly terms with Epstein long after the financier’s first conviction in 2008, including spending time on his yacht in 2015.

Combine that with his previous misadventures at Barclays – a £640,000 personal fine for attempting to out a whistleblower, a $15m corporate fine from US authorities for “shortcomings” and an unseemly row with once-Barclays client KKR after he intervened in his brother-in-law’s battle with the American giant – and you can be forgiven for wondering whether some on the board could find themselves asking whether it’s possible to go on tolerating such high-profile missteps in exchange for a satisfactory professional performance.

On the other side of London, a different kind of leadership is also developing a habit for blundering into avoidable rows.

The latest controversy that the Prime Minister’s top aide Dominic Cummings has created out of thin air is in the hiring of Andrew Sabisky, a ‘super forecaster’ who has in the past written about the potential benefits of forced contraception and described the supposed advantages of a particular drug as “probably worth a dead kid once a year.”

Considering journalists found these posts by googling his name, one can imagine that Number 10 was aware, but hired him anyway with Cummings apparently unbothered by the inevitable backlash.

This is unsurprising – he thought nothing of knifing the ex-chancellor, after all – but it is also unhelpful.

Neither a government nor a company should tot up too many avoidable mistakes. They’re called avoidable for a reason. And whether through hubris, arrogance or just poor judgment, both Staley and Number 10 seem to make a remarkable number of them.

A little more attention to detail, a little more foresight and a little more appreciation that just because you can doesn’t mean you should would not go amiss. The job at hand is hard enough without making extra work.

Main image: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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