Today we hear Richard Branson has become the preferred bidder for Northern Rock. It is good news that there is some movement, and there could be an outcome which keeps some of the Northern Rock staff trading with a new owner and looking after the customers and loans.
The scheme outlined on the radio implies the Bank of England and the Treasury did not take proper security for all the loans they advanced. It is high time Mr Darling explained the true position about this, and if they failed to take sufficient security for all the lending to explain why they made such an extraordinary decision.
According to the briefings so far, the taxpayer will get around half the money back immediately, and the other half back over a 2-3 year period. In the meantime the taxpayer will get similar security to other creditors. Presumably it also means no more government lending to Northern Rock, compared to the current position where the taxpayer is on the hook to lend more all the time there are deposit withdrawals. That would be a welcome development.
That may be a good outcome. To be able to judge it, the taxpayers’ representatives need to know how bad our starting position is. What, if anything, has been promised on repayment dates for the current loans? How many of them are secured on specific assets, which is better than a floating charge assuming they are secured on good assets in sufficient quantities? I have asked all these questions, but the taxpayer is still in the dark about how much money has been committed and on what basis.
Mr. Darling has made it impossible for the market to value the shares, as the market does not know the basics about how much money for how long is available to the company. If he is to persaude us all that he now will do a good deal for the taxpayer and for the UK fianncial system – his two legitimate aims – he needs to tell us more about the current position. The BBC this morning themselves asserted that there is a false market in the shares. The reason must be the lack of government transparency. That is unacceptable, after the Chancellor’s lecture to bankers that they needed to be more transparent!
I do hope Mr cable is getting ready with his apology for his irresponsible behaviour, if there is a successful rescue bid for Northern Rock. He has been so keen to attack Northern Rock and all involved with the company, making a rescue that more difficult.