Caps off to Obama

Halleluiah!

Barack Obama has done what no other leader apparently had the guts to do.

The new American president has capped bonuses for bankers on bailout programme. A ceiling of $500,000 may seem like big bucks to most of us, but to the über bankers of Wall Street it is small beer.

Then the Royal bank of Scotland, we discover is poised to pay out 10s of millions of pounds to various leeches in the investment banking division, in addition to bonuses of £1.83 billion last year. The response from Peter Mandelson, Business Secretary? Please be mindful of how this looks to the public.

This is the bank that has taken £20 billion in taxpayers money in order to survive. One of the mandarins at RBS tells us that the bonuses have to be paid, otherwise the shocked and horrified bankers who have been starved of their goodie bag will leave.

Good riddance. Time to wake up and smell the recession, and see if anyone else out there is willing to dole out big bonuses.

A little more Barack Obama please, and less of the whining Peter Mandelson approach is required.

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Closed for Business

I wasn’t entirely surprised to receive a pre-dawn text from my sons’ school that the snow had apparently made it impossible to educate my children.

No surprise either that the roads were ankle-deep in snow despite a weather warning the previous day and several gritters being seen out on the streets.

And it is totally taken for granted that the trains and buses were unable operate with or without the wrong kind of snow on the rails.

The only sign of public life, in fact, came from Merton Council’s parking ticket office. One (and only ) lady had struggled in to process parking fines, mine included. She was the only lady in the office who was able to make it in she explained.

As I marched my restless children out for a walk, the main roads were eerily quiet, not unlike a scene from an upmarket Christmas card.

Wimbledon Common however was like a carinival. Most of the activity centred around a man-made hill, excavated in the 1960s when the A3 trunk road was built.

In contrast to the dull silence of the suburban snowscape, there must have been 200 people skiing and toboganning down the snow-covered hill. Some had old fashioned wooden sledges, others had the minimalist plastic tea trays; at one point I saw a group of builders sledging on a “men at work” sign.

The heavy snowfall had enabled a group of snowboarders to construct ski jumps. There were carefully moulded snowmen scattered around the common, showing more signs of high-spirited family outings.

Hard to believe that this was a working Monday morning early in February. This was no normal day of travel chaos, when people guiltily stay at home muttering about the dire public transport system. It felt like a national holiday.

Can it be that the stiff-upper-lip Brits are suffering from recession fatigue? We are so fed up with the dreadful news being churned out every day, that we have seized on an opportunity for comic relief.

Maybe this is a case of burying our heads in the snow in the hope that Gordon’s debt mountain will disappear. The sooner the schools get back to educating our children, the better.

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Are you aware…

Twice this morning I have picked up the a phone call in my offce with the following automated phone message:

“Are you aware that personal debt problems can….”

I am trying to work out how to stop these nuisance calls. Do I waste time listening to the fake concern voiced by the automated caller, and ring back with a complaint? Or should I call up BT and tell them it is their fault for allowing this kind of call.

At least when the numerous stationery or personal accident companies make sales calls, there is a real person to rant at. They don’t usually call again.

The automated sales call is a growing trend that I suspect most people hate.

Any suggestions?

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Can a Leper Change its Spots?

As we learn more about the banks’ excesses, I am half expecting to see crowds of angry citizens with torches and pitch forks marching on the City to burn down the financial sector.

We now discover that John Thain, who left his job as head of global banking at Bank of America had spent $1.2m refurbishing his office last year. Included in the bill was a new waste paper basket costing $1,400.

It turns out that Merrill Lynch, the fallen bank that Thain once led before it was swallowed by Bank of America, had accelerated bonus payments of some $4bn before the government-backed takeover,

I really don’t know where to begin; the cynicism, the greed and the psychopathic ignorance of these so-called Masters of the Universe is quite beyond me, and I suspect most normal people who are suffering in the global recession which was brought on by the banks. The only good news is that Thain has stepped down, and he admits that his spending spree was “a mistake”.

The world has been gripped in a state of catastrophe over the banking system, a problem that was caused by banking incompetence and greed, and a problem that the banks seem unwilling to put right. Governments have tried to fix the problem by plunging the planet into a chasm of debt that will take decades to repay.

And the banks’ answer is to pay their own bonuses quickly and to spend $1,400 on a waste paper basket for a bloated uber-chief.

People pose the question: will banks change? Will they start lending again? They will certainly start lending again when they see enough of our taxpayers’ money swilling around to keep them and their bonuses safe. Will these social lepers ever change?

Yes. They will probably get richer.

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The Royal Fail

Once again, the Royal Mail is in trouble. The Hooper report which warns of near bankruptcy for the UK’s postal service has prompted the Government to part privatise it.

Well, not really privatise the operation, because that would be totally unacceptable to a Labour government that has just nationalised the UK banking sector. Part-privatisation is the buzz phrase ministers are using to describe the deep interest shown by the Dutch carrier TNT, which has shown interest in buying a stake in the Royal Mail. Peter Mandelson insists the business will remain publically owned.

What a shame. Times have moved on since the face of Queen Victoria graced the Penny Black stamp on every letter sent. We have to accept that a mail service needs substantial investment and modernisation, as well as joined-up thinking to handle new-fangled ideas like email and broadband that have seen the business fall away in recent years.

Already one junior (actually rather senior in years) minister Jim McGovern has resigned in outrage, no doubt sympathetic to the various union demands for full employment, restrictive thinking practices and the right to disrupt deliveries to celebrate the forthcoming weekend.

There is also an estimated £7 billion hole in the Royal Mail pension fund, which the group has to fund to the tune of £280 million a year, money the company cannot afford.

The government has magnanimously agreed to take on the liabilities of the pension fund, but there is of course a cynical twist to all this. While the government will commit to paying off the deficit, the pension fund is worth some £22 billion, a substantial sum which will go some way to reducing the national debt.

Let’s face it, the face of the Queen on our stamps is a quaint luxury doesn’t sit comfortably with a global business that is underperforming and in danger of financial ruin.

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Give it Arrest

 

 

Much confusion and hot air continues to blow over the Damian Green affair which completely ignores the real issue surrounding this absurd debacle.

 

Whatever information the Tory MP Mr Green held in his House of Commons offices, we can be fairly sure was not a matter of national security, but a minor embarrassment to the government.

 

Was the police raid legal? Was the Speaker acting beyond his powers in allowing the Commons search? Did the police need a warrant? Should the investigation start now or later?

 

These are all fair questions but they ignore the key one: when will the government ever learn? They introduce legislation that effectively allows martial law in the form of indiscriminate snooping, phone tapping and dawn raids of democratically elected representatives of the people – all in the name of preventing terror.

 

Benefit fraudsters, flytippers are just some of the citizens who have felt the sharp end of the anti-terror laws that allow government snooping on the whim of an officious bureaucrat. These laws should be used to prevent terrorism, not to hunt down the teenagers who drop sweet wrappers.

 

Perhaps the hamfisted police operation which involved the arrest of Damian Green will remind the government that the terror laws they introduced can backfire badly. Suddenly MPs have realised that their own precious freedom can be put at risk while they carry out legitimate business.

 

Governments love nothing more than to stifle any form of public accountability, and unauthorised leaking of information can be particularly embarrassing to an administration. In 1983 we saw a young Foreign Office clerk called Sarah Tisdall thrown in jail for leaking documents about cruise missiles to the Guardian newspaper (whose editor at the time shamefully identified her to the police).

 

Two years later the government unsuccessfully tried civil servant Clive Ponting under the Official Secrets Act for leaking information to an MP about the government misleading the House of Commons on the sinking of the Belgrano during the 1982 Falklands War.

 

We have the police to thank for reminding our great leaders that their bad laws will bring bad results. Now they know that great men can be arrested, as well as commoners.

 

 

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Promotion!

When I speak to new clients, I ask them for details of their past exploits to determine whether they are likely candidates for funding. Time and again I get waved aside by a lofty entrepreneur who tells me airily to look on Google; that I will find everything I need to know about their successful career.

Which usually means a series of self-promoting articles which they have linked carefully using web technology to get good search results.

I had one prospect (who never became a client) who described himself as a property developer, a motivational speaker, and a director of numerous dazzling companies. When I looked up his Google entries I found a series of cheesy videos about how to achieve your goals, a company promoting his motivational speaking and a web site showing some crumbling properties for sale.

Google can certainly help people find you, but are you sure you want them to see what they find?

Now I am about to break my own rules, and point you to our new website www.lendertracking.org, which is campaigning to get the banks lending again.

As a commercial finance broker I meet businesses and brokers every day who tell me that the banks are not lending, despite their reassuring comments that they are doing business as usual.

The banks have taken £37 billion of taxpayers’ money, and now it is now payback time. The banks must start lending again to get UK plc back on track. I am pleased to say this is not just my own hobby horse. We have been strongly supported by the brokers’ trade body the NACFB, which represents most of the commercial brokers in the UK.

Brokers are on the front line of lending, and these are the people who need to tell us which banks are really lending; we are appealing to them to find out what is really happening in the world of commercial lending.

But rather than harp on about the campaign I would ask you to make your comments on the website forum and on the questionnaire which will shortly publish the best and worst lenders.

Campaigns like this make a difference. Please join in.

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