Saturday, September 15, 2007

Darling seeks to reassure Northern Rock Customers; doesn't work

Let us pretend that you have money in the Northern Rock Building Society: what then is the rational course of action? According to the Chancellor, the emergency loan he has authorised to the beleaguered building society means that everyone can be reassured. It's not going out of business. That still leaves the question: what would you do? Well, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme that protects depositors only provides full compensation up to £2000 and ends £35000. This loan from the Bank of England isn't exactly free money either. The loan is secured on the Northern Rock's loan book, so it is effectively capped at £31.5bn, and that is assuming that none of the loans have not already been used for collateral elsewhere. It is also at a punitive rate of interest, so taking it up cuts deep into profitability, and Northern Rock will certainly have to take it up. So, in strictly rational terms the smart thing to do might be to get your money out, especially if you are well over the £33000 limit. In any case, Northern Rock customers are voting with feet, regardless of warm words from politicians, with £1bn withdrawn yesterday and more today, and the more is taken out, the more sensible it is to take your money out. Whatever happens Northern Rock is finished, facing either takeover or bankruptcy, probably the former. They ran a money market-based strategy, and, like so many similar, it worked just fine until the market changed. Using your business as a one-way bet is never a good idea.

I reckon that Northern Rock customers have got it right. The question is how correct are the Chancellor and the Bank of England on this one? They are being much less sympathetic than the the Fed or the ECB. This could turn out to be a mistake, especially if the Northern Rock collapses.

Friday, September 14, 2007

John Baron MP attacks Government over housing policy “shambles”

Following recent obscure White Paper publications, John Baron MP has criticised Government plans to increase the number of houses that councils will be forced to build and to limit the power of councils to block the building of incinerators and sewage plants. He has also attacked the Government’s record on social housing.

John said:

A series of recent obscure White Papers and announcements show the Government’s Housing policy is in a mess. We need more houses across the region, but forcing ever higher house-building targets on local councils and communities is not the way to do it. This policy can only put pressure on our already-overstretched public services, and it will also threaten our greenbelt and the environmental protection which this provides.

It is also undemocratic – local residents should decide the type and extent of new development, not politicians sitting in London. I don’t buy the Government line that local communities cannot be trusted to make these decisions.

Meanwhile, an obscure White Paper has revealed that Gordon Brown is planning to strip local communities of their say over incinerators, rubbish dumps, and sewage plants. The Government has sided with large developers, rather than the people. These decisions will now be made by a new central Government quango, which will be unsackable and unaccountable. So much for a more ‘open’ style of politics.

Evidence that the Government’s housing policy is in a shambles is its record on social housing. Less social housing has been built in every year under the Labour Government since 1997 than in any year under the last Conservative Government. I have asked the Housing Minister what she intends to do to put this right. Once again, Government action has not matched its spin.

John has written to the Government asking for answers to these points.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Alastair Darling blames the Banks for Brown's mistakes

Alastair Darling, who has just remembered that he is Chancellor of the Exchequer and noticed that something appears to be up, has criticised the banks for being reckless lending and urged a return to 'old-fashioned banking'. This is, of course, a meaningless soundbite. As Darling well knows the current crisis is on the finance side of banking operations, not on the lending side. As he also knows there are already serious effects on the real economy, but they are effects not causes. No financial institution lends unless they expect to be repaid, though it is certainly true that some are more risk-averse than others. In any case, the banks are already raising interest rates and tightening up on lending independently of government and the Bank of England, and that is the policy failure that he is trying to cover up. Not only has there been a regulatory failure with regard to complex debt-based instruments, but the refusal of the Bank of England to inject liquidity into the UK money markets means that it is the consumer that is going to take the pain. This is not the stance taken by either the Federal Reserve in the US or the European Central Bank by the way, who have acted to protect ordinary people. Who is at fault? Well, who has been Chancellor for the last 10 years? Who has set the regulatory framework? Who hired Mervyn King and the rest of the Monetary Policy Committee? It's Gordon Brown of course. Darling is covering for his boss as the failures of Brown's tenure at No 11 become apparent. That he feels he has to do it does not augur well, however. One wonders what the report that must have just landed on his desk actually said.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Laindon Centre redeveopment Consultation Starts

If you live in the Basildon area then you probably know the Laindon Centre. As no-one would argue it is a depressing, graffiti-riven piece of 60s brutalist architecture, which has less fallen out of fashion but more a wonder that it ever was in fashion. However, it has some first-class traders, including an excellent Indian restaurant, hairdresser, and a fine chippie. It is in private ownership, and the previous owners had obtained planning permission for a redevelopment. The trouble was that the scheme could not be delivered, at least they could not find anyone to finance it as it stood. Now there are new owners, and they are starting to consult for a new scheme. Basildon Council has used its good offices to get matters to this point, but now it is up to the private sector, and the good people of Laindon, to make it all happen.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rees-Mogg Reckons things can only get better, for David Cameron

Brown has lost his bounce, and a few things are going wrong, most notably the economy, as William Rees-Mogg summarises here. It appears that the credit crunch is feeding through into business interest rates, which have risen without reference to the Bank of England. Mortgage rates will probably follow as banks seek to fund loans from deposits instead of borrowing, and several have already started raising savings rates in anticipation. So, for the first time the levers of the economy have drifted away from the government, remember they set the inflation target for the Bank of England to aim at but if the Clearing Banks are doing their own thing than Gordon Brown and the BoE become bit players. Of course, they can cut base rates in effort to reassert their authority, but is that the right thing to do? If the Banks don't move their High-Street rates then it makes no difference anyway.

So, Brown is in trouble and even cheerleaders like Simon Heffer are laying into him, though in this case via a moronic economic analysis. When even New Labour apologists like Heffer turn against you then you know you've got a problem.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

John Baron MP on St. Andrews Health Centre in Billericay

Our local MP has taken up the very serious issue of the threat to the St Andrews Health Centre in Billericay. This is what he has written to the Chief Executive of Basildon Hospital:

31st August 2007 Ref: JB/TD

Dear Alan ,

St Andrews Centre, Billericay

I am writing to express my concerns and those of local residents about the current review that is being undertaken regarding the future of St Andrews Centre, Billericay.

Whilst accepting that you are obliged by Monitor to ensure that your assets are being properly utilised, you need to be fully aware of the extent to which St Andrews is relied upon by the local community, and the extent to which we will resist any downgrading or closure of services. I have sent a 1,000 signature petition and 78 letters of support to SW Essex PCT to illustrate the strength of feeling on this issue – and my thanks go to Cllr Terence Gandy for helping to collate all these. I will be sending the PCT a further tranche of petitions once they have been collected. I have directed these petitions to the PCT as I fear that any possibility of closure could be driven by cost considerations.

We are determined to fight to keep St Andrews open and fully operational, and would therefore appreciate your written confirmation that this will be the case. You should be aware that, if this confirmation cannot be given now, I will be inviting the PCT to a meeting with local residents to which you will also be invited.

On a related issue, I have also made the PCT aware that I find it somewhat unfortunate that relevant stakeholders were not consulted about this issue – for one thing, it cannot be good for staff morale to first hear about this in the newspapers.

I look forward to hearing from you

Yours sincerely,

John Baron MP

cc: Cllr Terence Gandy

Mr Alan Whittle
Chief Executive
Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Essex SS16 5NL
Terence Gandy is a Councillor on Billericay Town Council and he deserves congratulations along with John for gripping this issue. The Trust is on notice on this one. Billericay as a community will fight for our local health facilities.