Controlling public spending and borrowing

It was good to hear David Cameron saying we need to cut out waste and unwanted expenditure, and good that he now recognises that Labour’s spending plans post 2010 are unaffordable. Labour responded in two contradictory ways. They both lied that Tories would cut jobs in front line services, and then said they could find more “Gerschon” style savings by running things better!

As readers of this blog will know, I think the least affordable part of Labour’s spending plans is the purchase of bank shares. The Lib Dems today rightly say the share purchase proposals are not working, before going on to recommend a dearer and worst mess by saying they want the government to go directly into the banking business,lending taxpayers money to companies direct!

There needs to be some clearer thinking how to support and encourage banks to lend more. The government has negated the favourable impact of £37 billion of extra capital for 3 banks, by demanding more capital for any given volume of lending. The regulator, who kept levels of capital too low during the boom has now set them higher to intensify the crunch. The greater regulatory requirements cancel out the extra taxpayer capital.

The government is now trying lower interest rates, printing more pounds, ballooning the Bank of Enngland balance sheeet, guarantees and short term loans on a big scale. These devices should start to loosen the squeeze. However, the potential losses on bank loan books allied to the extra capital requirements laid down by the Regulator mean much less lending than in the bubble days, as you would expect. People should understand that the regulators have called time on easy credit, so we are not going back to 2006 conditions any time soon.

The bank capital issue needs rethinking. Government should reassure markets it stands behind all the major banks with short term loans, guarantees and liquidity.It should renegotiate the share issue and ask the banks to find more of their own extra capital as they can do. At the moment taxpayers are sitting on a loss above £7 billion for no good reason. Anyone who thought £37 billion would fix it did not understand it. The government should start worrying about how easy it would be to lose all that £37 billion, given the scale of the banks balance sheets and the risks being run.

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12 Comments

  1. David Cram
    Posted November 19, 2008 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I have yet to understand why the Government should ‘stand behind the banks’.

    Doubtless it looks bad for banks to fall over, but don’t some of them thoroughly deserve it for implementing a flawed business model whilst taking inordinate commissions (in the style of ‘man the life-boats’)?

    Can you explain, with your customary clarity, why failed banks are not allowed to fail? If you can’t, then please explain as a corollary, why any enterprise should be allowed to fail after adopting a flawed business model.

    Reply: because the Cenyral bank is the lender of last resort, and instructed to maintain orderly markets so all other businesses can settle accounts and borrow money to carry on their functions.

  2. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted November 19, 2008 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    The £37billion was said to be the answer not just to our problems but was the template for the resolution of the world's banking problems according to Brown! Brown is the worst form of party politician and is concerned only with keeping power regardless of cost. Thankfully Cameron and Osborne have signalled an end to the crazy idea of matching Labour's spending plans. In addition to a much more robust stance against Brown's ruinous policies we need to hear far clearer messages about the Conservative alternatives. Those so far announced have seemed inconsequential.

  3. Curly
    Posted November 19, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    The time is fast approaching to polarise politics and offer the public real change.

  4. Neil Craig
    Posted November 19, 2008 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I'll say it again but if industrialists & bankers knew that 4 years from now the first new nuclear would be coming online & electricity prices starting a long fall to perhaps 1/4 the present level they would be falling over themselves to invest here.

    If they expect blackouts soon & massive ones after EU regulations close much of our coal fired power in 2015 they will not be persuaded merely by low interest rates.

  5. Alan Wheatley
    Posted November 19, 2008 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    You say that banks can find more of their own extra capital and they should be asked by the government to do so.

    How practical is it for them so to do?

    Can you indicate how they should go about it and offer any thoughts as to why they have not followed such a course?

    Reply: By cutting costs and selling assets. Why bother if the governemnt will offer them the cash?
    Alan Wheatley

  6. Acorn
    Posted November 19, 2008 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    It is all getting very confusing for us poor taxpayers. The BoE is printing money increasing the money supply – inflationary. The banks are hording it to make their end of year accounts look good – dis-inflationary. The BoE wants higher capital to loan ratios at the commercial banks, which reduces money supply, which is – deflationary.

    Commercial banks normally hoard cash for future takeover bids, perhaps they are still thinking in the old ways. That is, the way banks used to work prior to August 2007. My bank presents its accounts in US Dollars. As it is the world's local bank; and, is mainly owned by foreigners, I struggle to understand why it is considered to be, err, British or, why the hell it still has its HQ here! Must be something to do with tax.

    Gordo still keeps saying that the credit crunch started in the US, it probably did. My intelligent friends oversees tell me that a lot of the dodgy derivatives, SIVs; CDOs and the, now infamous, CDS instruments were actually written up in the UK. Why, because it was cheaper and easier and the regulatory requirements were, let's say, easier. "You Brits are not exactly innocent in this **** up you know". Anyway, they are biased and just cos they can afford the latest skis, doesn't mean they're good skiers.

    So, as I see it, after Christmas, we will see a major rise in corporate insolvency and mass redundancies. This will be followed by about a year of deflation, followed, after the next election, by hyper-inflation; as all the money the BoE is printing explodes out of the banks.

    It is time for Redwoodians to think about living somewhere else. If you stay here, you are the sort of people who will be paying for NuLabours incompetent management of our economy.

    So I respectfully suggest that you leave it to NuLabours client state to pay their own welfare benefits; their own public sector employees and their gold plated pensions. The non-socialised part of this once great nation should just **** *** somewhere else. If you can get your assets and income out at a decent exchange rate, even better.

    This link is strictly for we macroeconomic nerds:-
    http://blogs.ft.com/wolfforum/2008/11/254/#more-2

  7. mikestallard
    Posted November 19, 2008 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Yes, the banks deal in trillions of pounds while the government deals in just billions of pounds: we are all in it far too deeply for our safety. Strangely the banks seem to be largely in the Labour heartland….
    Meanwhile, I do not see any attempt, even the smallest attempt, to cut back on government spending at all. Do you? Locally, we have enormous expenditure on schools in the pipeline – most of it just, frankly, wasted. Every day there seems to be another announcement of more millions being "invested".
    Blindly, the government staggers forward to their fatal election debacle when, hopefully, Labour will disappear into history: meanwhile they are borrowing where they still can to bribe us with other people's money.

  8. Alan Wheatley
    Posted November 19, 2008 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Should not the rethinking the bank capital issue include looking at the take over of HBOS by Lloyds/TSB? As I understand it, under normal circumstances this would have been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and the likelihood is that they would block it on the grounds that the resulting company would of such a size as to be bad for competition. If so, then to my mind the following questions arise.

    Would the total amount of capital to be provided by government be less if Lloyds/TSB did not pick up the liability of HBOS and the government funded HBOS to the extent necessary to keep that bank solvent?

    If the Lloyds/TSB take over is successful, what will be the longer term effect on competition? If under normal circumstances the merger bank would have been judged to be too big, then why would it be acceptable when we return to normality?

    Alan Wheatley.

    Reply: yes of course the government should renegotiate its banking package, and should disallow the merger on competition grounds. It should certainly not finance it!

  9. THE ESSEX BOYS
    Posted November 20, 2008 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    2 revealing quotes we came across recently from Chancellor Brown in addresses to the City!
    The excellent 'MEET THE PRESS' (CNBC – Sky Ch 505 10pm every Sunday) puts American politicians on the spot with direct quotes and clips, sometimes from way back.

    However we need go back much less far to see how astute was OUR OWN Supreme Leader when he ruled the Treasury!

    26th SEPTEMBER 2005
    "Britain uniquely has continued to grow. In any other decade a house price bubble would have pushed Britain from boom to bust."

    21st JUNE 2006
    "Your dynamism has led Britain to innovate in the most modern instruments of finance".

    IF HE WAS SO WRONG THEN WHY ON EARTH SHOULD WE BELIEVE HIM NOW?

  10. Patrick
    Posted November 20, 2008 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I am sure that the policy direction is now right. I am also sure that there is developing a clear borrow vs save fight between Labour and Conservatives – which will be the theme for the next election.

    What I'm worryingly unclear about is how well the case is being communicated. It's all very well being in the right but that's little comfort if you lose the election. Mandy and Campbell are back in business. Cameron and Osborne have a mountian to climb in the media war (esp with the BBC fighting in the enemy trenches).

    John I'm sure you are among the best placed to give good policy advice. Who's there getting that to stick with voters? A serious and unrelenting message campaign is what's really needed now – but is not yet visible.

  11. THE ESSEX BOYS
    Posted November 20, 2008 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    4 QUESTIONS PLEASE SIR! :

    1. Why haven't the Conservatives been far more critical of the government non-job 'industry'? We don't recall Gordon Brown ever being directly confronted on this particular subject in the House or by the media.

    2. Is it possible to quantify:
    (a) the cost of the additional jobs artificially created given the guaranteed pension rights in addition to often-high salaries?
    (b) the advertising/recruitment costs?

    3. Do you agree that recruitment should be halted NOW and staff whittled down by natural attrition and redeployment rather than via a costly redundancy bloodbath?

    4. Given that the governor of the BoE recently stated that RPI inflation will inevitably fall following the MPC's slashing of interest rates, why didn't they do this earlier to meet their remit on the inflation rate? The question of that remit seems very confused as 2 years ago they were trying to deflate the rise in house prices. Was that their responsibility as housing costs don't appear in at least one of the sets of inflation figures?

    We ask here as your grasp of these issues far outstrips those of anyone from whom we have yet to hear in government! Thank you.

  12. John Hall
    Posted November 21, 2008 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    An absolute national disgrace that the DfT/HA still cannot provide error free evidence to a Public Inquiry after 6 seperate attempts resulting in 6 adjournments the present one indefinately adjourned.
    The true cost of providing nothing other than waste paper since 2007 will eventually reach £20 million minimum for a £300 million ByPass that was to cost £90
    million.
    Amazing how the media prefer to appease the Government and Nationally withold this information.
    When the Public Inquiry re-starts ?sometime late 2009 according to the HA it will be a new PI start with vast new volumes of paper,the previous lot having been binned.

    Longdendale Bypass PI is a record breaker

    It’s official – the Public Inquiry (PI) for the Longdendale Bypass is soon to be a record breaker.

    The previous record was held by the (second) PI into the M6 Toll Road in 1994, which lasted 17 months – our PI has now been underway for nearly 18 months, and by the time we reach 26th November, of the 547 days since commencement, the PI will only have undertaken 15 sitting days, less than 3% of the total time span.

    Over the next few days, we’ll have a series of articles about where this Public Inquiry stands, and what it may mean for the future.

    Labels: Public Inquiry
    EXCLUSIVE: Public Inquiry costs now stand at £16 million
    Friday, November 14, 2008

    **UPDATE: the MEN, and both the Glossop & Tameside Advertiser as well as the Glossop Chronicle are now carrying this story**

    We report on an interesting question raised in Parliament on Thursday. Robert Goodwill MP – the Shadow Transport Minister – asked the following:

    To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when the Longdendale bypass public inquiry commenced; for how many days the inquiry has sat; and what the estimated cost is of the Longdendale bypass public inquiry process

    The answer (from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Clark MP PPS and not the DfT which seems odd, presumably Adonis has better things to do) told us the dates and times most of us anoraks know, but then tagged the costs of the Public Inquiry on the end – and they apparently now stand at £16 million. You may remember that we covered a similar line of questioning from Goodwill in Parliament in May with the total then standing at £15 million, and so it seems 6 months later, the PI (such as it exists and does anything useful) has eaten up another £1 million of taxpayer’s money. That’s £39,000 per week.

    Now this has the unfortunate effect of putting our Bypass cost counter (which you’ll find at the top of the left-hand column) more than a little ahead of the official information, but we still stand by our line that until we have a proper breakdown, it will remain unadjusted.

    Either way, that’s still a hell of a lot of money for absolutely bugger all. And it’s only going to get ever more expensive…
    Labels: bottomless pit, money, Public Inquiry

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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