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Phantom ghosts out to spook the FSA for making life difficult.

Byline: NEVILL BOYD MAUNSELL

The Financial Services Authority was biting back last night, asserting that a highly-critical report on its efforts by the Centre for Policy Studies was riddled with factual inaccuracies and, worse, failed to understand its role as a regulator.

The FSA had plenty to bite back about. The CPS report was based on interviews with leading City figures who were too scared of the FSA to be named. They accused the watchdog of damaging all kinds of financial services, but small companies most of all, with a 'culture ofprescriptive and increasingly complex regulation'.

As it happened, the FSA had been active on the small business front earlier in the day.

First, it fined an outfit called Highbury Financial Services pounds 35,000 for running a promotion early last year with the slogan 'The 25 Shares Most Likely to Double in 2004'.

Highbury's offence was creating 'an unrealistic expectation' without warning about the 'material risks in shares generally and penny shares in particular'. Itindulged, too, in the old tipsheet fiction that the thing was based on 'secret tip-offs' and information from 'financial experts'.

To cap it all, Highbury lacked the systems and controls 'to ensure that the compliance officer wasappropriately supervised'. Terrible. But nobody got brownie points for having a compliance officer at all.

What about the shares, though? Which were they? How did they do? The helpful lady in the FSA press office had no idea. It was beside thepoint, surely. This was all about not making wealth warnings and not having systems to keep the compliance officer on his toes.

She tried to find out, but to no purpose. Nobody knew. Nobody cared. So nobody had the remotest clue as to whether investors in the 25 shares - the people the FSA exists to protect - lost their shirts, or have fled to the Cayman Islands to hide their wealth. A little later, the FSA put out a new statement. This was all about 'the scope, form and timing' of a study of the costs of regulation, paying'particular attention to the impact of costs on small firms'. Whoever would have thought the mighty FSA would bother itself with anything so trivial?

It is a joint study with the Financial Services Practitioner Panel, representing people at the receiving end. Prudential's Jonathan Bloomer is chairman.

None of them seemed to be involved in anything resembling a small business. No so, the panel's secretariat insisted. Halfway down the list is a Scottish solicitor, Ruthven Gemmell (pronouncedRuth-Ven, not Rivven, and he can be prickly about it, they warned.) Mr Gemmell is chairman of the small Business Practitioner Panel, so that's all right. He will work on the study along with Mr Bloomer and Roy Leighton, a non-executive director of a smallish publisher of personal finance magazines.

Maybe, they really will fix some of the FSA's grosser box-ticking follies - and blame the rest on Eurocrats in BrusselsReport, Page 20
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 4, 2005
Words:486
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