The BBC Today programme had a second go at Northern Rock this morning, and did allow Lord James to set out some of the reasons why nationalisation would be a bad thing. He reminded us that managing the Group would be very difficult for the government, there would be conflicts of interest with their role as Regulator and that there could be competition complications if a nationalised Rock used public money to take busienss away from others.
He might have added the biggest reason of all – taking on more than ??100 billion of liabilities would be a huge commitment for the taxpayer. We the taxpayers would undoubtedly lose substantial sums of money we could ill afford to lose, even if they did nationalise it for ??1 and faced down the lawsuits of aggrieved shareholders who would object to such a confiscation.
Lord James proposed something he called “work – out” instead. This is more commonly known as “run-off” in the financial world, and is used for for example for insurance companies in trouble where they have to be closed to new business. The existing book of business is then managed to a successful conclusion over the years. Of course that is the fall back option, should the current shareholders and directors fail to make a success of running it as a going concern, and if the takeover bids do not result in an agreed deal.
The governnment needs to do some straight thinking and some straight talking for a change.
IT HAS TO BE A TOUGH AND FAIR BANK MANAGER, MANAGING THE LOANS WITH A VIEW TO GETTING THEM REPAID AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.
IT HAS TO REMAIN THE REGULATOR OF THE FINANCIAL MARKETS BUT SHOULD STRENGTHEN THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE BANK OF ENGLAND IN THIS FIELD WHERE IT TOOK SO MUCH OF ITS POWER AWAY TEN YEARS AGO
IT SHOULD RULE OUT BECOMING THE ONWER OF NORTHERN ROCK, AS THIS WOULD COMPROMISE ITS ROLES AS BANK MANAGER AND REGULATOR.