Commentaries

from Margaret Doyle:

Insurers love the FSA

July 22, 2009

Britain's Financial Services Authority has taken a lot of brickbats. its failure to anticipate the crisis is one of the main reasons that George Osborne, the Conservative finance spokesman, now plans to abolish it, transfer most of its supervisory powers (including for insurance) to the Bank of England leaving a rump responsible for consumer protection.

Kroes hits right note on EU bank aid

By Paul Taylor
July 22, 2009

Neelie Kroes, the EU Competition Commissioner, is right to be taking a hard line on state aid to banks, which will distort competition if not repaid. However, she will have to fight member states like Britain and Germany, which are desperately encouraging banks to lend locally, nursing large losses on their capital injections or trying to avoid massive upheaval in their banking industries.

Polish EU vision breaks the mould

By Paul Taylor
July 22, 2009

At last — a Polish vision of the future of the European Union that does not involve refighting
World War Two or dying in a ditch for outsized voting rights.

Politics, economics collide over Opel

By Paul Taylor
July 20, 2009

Political and economic logic are set to collide in the byzantine decision-making over the future of German carmaker Opel, the main European arm of fallen U.S. auto giant General Motors.
If politics prevail, as seems likely, the cost to German taxpayers will be higher and the chances of commercial success lower.

from Margaret Doyle:

Walker puts politics into banking

July 16, 2009

LONDON, July 16 (Reuters) – As befits a former senior civil servant, David Walker has produced a review of governance of British financial institutions that is acutely tuned to political sensitivities. His proposals would make banks more bureaucratic and more regulated, while bankers’ pay will be more open. In short, they will be treated more like the arms of the state that they have become.
Bankers will groan at the 39 draft recommendations for improving their performance, but they have received, one way and another, 1.3 trillion pounds of taxpayer support, or over 20,000 pounds for every man, woman and child in the land.
This alone justifies Walker’s proposals of a more intrusive and prescriptive approach to pay, even though he admits that pay was the least of the many causes of the financial crisis.
Less emotive, but more important, are his proposals on boards and shareholders, whom he clearly feels are the unspoken villains of the piece. Chairmen would become serious figures in financial institutions, responsible for holding dominant chief executives to account. With the enhanced scope of this role, it is unlikely they could do much else, even to chair another (non bank) company.
Non-executives, too, should expect the job to become part-time employment, with training, support and external advice. This would mean the end of the politically-correct drive towards diversity. Conveniently for him, Walker says he has no interest in such agendas. He prefers to push for proper risk committees, taking a view on the macroeconomic environment as described, for example, in Bank of England reports,.
Walker is scathing about shareholders, whom he views as complicit at best and responsible, at worst, for the excesses of the boom- as he asks, who demanded all those share buybacks? He wants fund managers to commit to “principles of stewardship”, with a requirement to “engage” with managers at the companies they own.
He’d also like to see a change in board culture, whatever that may mean. This, like his other proposals, sounds sensible, but is mostly wishful thinking. That there is something rotten in the way we do banking in the early 21st century is beyond doubt, but this report, however well-meaning, doesn’t take us any nearer to curing the disease.

Blair for EU president? Don’t hold your breath

By Paul Taylor
July 15, 2009

The British government has chosen a strange time to announce its support for former Prime Minister Tony Blair for the not-yet-existent job of President of the European Council. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has publicly touted Blair as a good candidate, and his name is among a handful discussed among EU diplomats. But there was no obvious reason for Europe Minister Glynnis Kinnock to go public with a British candidacy now.

No early bank exit for Britain

July 13, 2009

John Kingman has finally stated the obvious. After nine months of near-silence, the civil servant responsible for managing the UK government’s bank shareholdings has piped up to say Britain must be patient in recovering the 35 billion pounds it has so far injected into Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group.

from MediaFile:

Electronic health records in the land of Gotcha!

July 6, 2009

There needs to be at least a hint of political scandal for serious public policy discussions to qualify as news these days. Which is why reports that patients in the UK's national healthcare system might be granted some some say in managing their personal health records after the next election gets largely lost in discussion of close ties between Google and Britain's Conservative Party. This is a shame, because public debate over the promises and perils of electronic health record technology are long overdue. ******The tempest concerns Steve Hilton, considered one of Tory party leader David Cameron's closest aides, who is married to Rachel Whetstone, Google's vice president of global communications. The suggestion in some reports is that these links will make it difficult for the party to include Google in any plan to give citizens the choice of storing their health records with private companies such as Microsoft or top UK private insurer Bupa. Google would have to get busy quick, as currently, its health records service is designed only for the United States. And it has had trouble gaining traction there. As an opposition party, the Conservatives' views on the subject are relevant because they currently enjoy a wide lead in polls over who might win the next national elections.******Electronic health records could offer broad benefits, if ever implemented.  But many issues must be resolved. The medical profession has long resisted adopting any plan that would help patients second-guess treatment decisions by their physicians. There remain vast problems with how to incorporate old medical records with any degree of accuracy into an electronic record. There are nagging questions about how to create common formats to share all the different types of information that might be included in a health record -- from scribbled prescription orders to faxes to database records to X-rays and so on. There are commercial issues over how to balance the interests of patients, medical providers and "payors," or insurers. Then there is the chicken and egg question of how to get these institutions involved and who will move first. Perhaps the most cripling issue is patient privacy and how to ensure that intitmate personal information is not released. ******In an April speech at the Conservative Party's spring conference, Cameron spoke of replacing the National Health Service's (NHS) centralized patient database with a distributed patient health record system that grants some powers to patients to manage their own information. He claims a private plan would "cost virtually noting to run", in contrast to the Labour government's £12.7 billion current upgrade of health information systems that does not include measures to give patients more control over their records.***

"People can store their health records securely online, they can show them to whichever doctor they want. They’re in control, not the state.***And when they’re in control of their own health records, they’re more interested in their health, so they might start living more healthily, saving the NHS (National Health Service) money.***But best of all in this age of austerity, a web-based version of the government’s bureaucratic scheme services like Google Health or Microsoft Health Vault cost virtually nothing to run."

from MediaFile:

Digital Britain vision lacks political roadmap

June 15, 2009

The UK government's grand reworking of digital policy, due out Tuesday, has something for every one to chatter about -- from funding for a further broadband buildout to reworking television licensing fees to how the country faces up to the issue of media piracy.