The heads of Britain's biggest banks are enjoying salaries far in excess of other leading chief executives - in spite of the recession. In fact, according to new research, the annual take-home pay of some senior bankers is larger now than it was before the credit crunch triggered the run on Northern Rock in September 2007.
The revelation is likely to further anger members of the public and MPs who have expressed concern about remuneration levels in the City.
A report last week by the treasury select committee claimed that the bonus culture among banks had encouraged a "lethal combination of reckless and excessive risk-taking". But according to a Channel 4 Dispatches programme to be screened tomorrow night, the basic pay of leading bankers has defied the economic downturn.
The programme claims that, historically, bank bosses have been paid the same as their FTSE 100 peers, but in the past 10 years their salaries have outstripped them. Research conducted for Dispatches reveals that, in 2008, bank bosses earned an average of £255,000 a year more than their FTSE 100 peers.
The programme shows the average salaries of leading bankers continued to rise between 2006-07 and 2007-08 - just when the banking sector was plunged into turmoil. In 2006 the basic pay of Sir Fred Goodwin, the Royal Bank of Scotland's chief executive, was £1.19m, rising to £1.29m in 2007 and £1.297m last year. The bank's new chief executive, Stephen Hester, earns a basic salary of £1.2m.
Andy Hornby, the former chief executive of HBOS, took home a basic salary of £787,000 in 2006, rising to £940,000 in 2007 and £1.025m last year.
Remuneration of the banks' non-executive directors - who were paid to safeguard shareholders' interests and rein in the banks' executives - has also soared. Non-executives at HBOS were paid £30,000 a year in 2001, rising to £70,000 a year in 2008. The pay of RBS's non-executives almost tripled, from £25,000 a year in 2000 to £73,000 in 2008. Northern Rock's non-executive salaries rose by 33% to £60,000 last year - after the bank was nationalised.
Dispatches has also obtained the contracts of several leading bankers who have earned infamy for their part in the banking crisis. It has emerged that, in 2004, Goodwin was guaranteed a bonus of 200% of his £900,000 salary and was entitled to 365 days of paid sick leave.
Lloyds Bank's CEO, Eric Daniels, who is American, was entitled to £33,000 a year for his son's school fees, £100,000 a year in housing costs for the first three years he was in the UK and a £75,000 fee to cover his relocation costs.
The programme also makes the extraordinary claim that the former Northern Rock chief executive, Adam Applegarth, had a member of staff stand behind his Aston Martin in the car park to prevent others walking behind it. "There was a short cut to the staff car park and I wasn't allowed to walk behind his car to the short cut," said one of the bank's former managers, Dennis Grainger. "We had a member of staff posted there to stop people walking behind his car."
Dispatches identifies 21 former executives at banks that failed or almost failed who each have pension pots worth more than £1m. Larry Fish, who used to run RBS's American operations, has a pension of more than £18m, paying out £1.5m-plus a year. According to the programme, Goodwin's widely condemned £16m pension may actually be worth £28m once inflation and third-party provider costs are included.