A senior banker has defended City bonuses, insisting they are necessary to keep hold of talent.

Barclays chairman Marcus Agius said he “got” the public anger about big payouts in the wake of the financial crisis.

But he went on: “The best explanation I can give is that we operate in a globally competitive industry.

“One of the things that has happened in recent years is the world has got smaller and banks like ours... we operate in over 50 countries.

“The people we employ have got a choice as to where they can go and work, and they are mobile.

“Therefore we have to be very careful about what we pay people in terms of what the rest of the market is paying them.”

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s World at One, Mr Agius said his reaction to the Government’s recently announced 50% “windfall” tax on bonuses above £25,000 was “concern as to whether it disadvantages us in terms of our international competition”.

He stressed that Barclays was prioritising maintaining capital reserves and making more credit available ahead of giving staff extra money.

Mr Agius also admitted that at one stage he feared he might be the bank’s last chairman, and praised the Government’s intervention as “nothing short of heroic”.

Even though Barclays decided against taking state money directly, the action was still crucial to keep the wider system afloat, he said. But he dismissed suggestions that profits for this year were not “real” because of the assistance.

Referring to anger about the bonuses that were now being paid, Mr Agius added: “There is a sort of perception out there that bankers don’t get it.

“I think that is untrue. I think bankers do get it, certainly this banker gets it.”