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Bookmark and ShareSargon Nissan is a researcher in nef‘s Access to Finance team.

George OsborneWhen George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor, called for the break-up of Lloyds and RBS, he echoed the recommendations of our report I.O.U.K. on the failure of British banks to provide credit appropriate to our economy’s needs.

It seemed inevitable that this issue would rear its head again, and now we finally witness the financial sector’s response, via its ever-willing ally, the Government and Treasury. Their response came today with a Treasury report  – commissioned before the worst days of the current crisis – that staunchly defends the right of big banks to get bigger. According to today’s Financial Times, the Chancellor and the authors reiterated the report’s findings that “an industry constrained on narrow lines would find it harder to develop new products”.

What does not seem to be acknowledged in the current debate is that the failure of overly-consolidated banking pre-dates the crisis. As we discussed in I.O.U.K., the inability of the banking sector to provide the necessary credit for thoses small businesses and sectors of the economy which do not enjoy unwavering Government support is not a result of the credit crunch and economic crisis. The reality is that banks have been withdrawing from communities, closing their branches and abandoning relationship-driven banking for over two decades now. And it is this retrenchment from the real economy which has made them so vulnerable to the kinds of economic shocks we have seen in the last eight months. Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley used to be mutuals, but they abandoned old-fashioned banking and converted into shareholder-owned institutions in search of better returns. And the result of this shift? They both went bankrupt and had to be rescued by the taxpayer.

It was  selfish herd-like behaviour seeking the easiest profits, encouraged by policymakers since Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s reforms, which thoroughly undermined our financial system. Perversely, it is now the Tories who seem to perceive the contradiction of a banking system with a permanent Government get-out-of-jail free card for banks that are, in the Shadow Chancellor’s words, “too big to fail, too big to bail”.

Perhaps the Conservatives are willing to contradict the prior orthodoxy just to win political points? Or maybe Osborne is just concerned about how big a headache a banking system in need of permanent subsidy will be when he has to present the next Budget?

To mark the publication of I.O.U.K.: banking failure and how to build a fit financial sectornef‘s new report on banking – the nef triple crunch blog is staging a debate. Sargon Nissan, one of the authors of the report, kicks things off. Replies from our special guest bloggers will be posted below.

Banking unfit for purpose

Bookmark and ShareSargon Nissan is a researcher in nef‘s Access to Finance team.


When Lord Mandelson said, last November, ‘It’s completely unacceptable to the Government and to business in this country for banks indefinitely to stop functioning as banks.’, he inadvertently revealed policy makers’ confusion over what to do amidst this unprecedented crisis of banks and the financial system.

They’ve recogI.O.U.K.: The failure of banks and how to build a fit financial sectornised banks have stopped functioning (who hasn’t?) but not that they’ve become unfit for purpose.

Our banks have become far removed from their roots as lenders and investors in communities and businesses, as we reveal in our new report, I.O.U.K.: banking failure and how to build a fit financial sector. Decades of banking sector consolidation have been encouraged by lax regulation. There are now fewer bank branches than post offices in this country – and the number is set to drop still further. Meanwhile, Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs) have been starved of support while attempting to address this failure directly.

Increasingly desperate Government bailouts – witness Monday’s £260 billion underwriting of Lloyds and Barclays now reportedly ‘mulling’ the Treasury’s offer to underwrite its toxic assets –  are having little effect bar robbing the taxpayer.

The Government is throwing good money after bad. Read the rest of this entry »

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