Friday 10 October 2008

Investment begins at home

The collapse and nationalisation of an Icelandic bank has obviously caused problems for a number of local authorities in Wales. Some people have suggested that the councils concerned have made unwise decisions about where they placed their funds. The leader of the WLGA, John Davies from Pembrokeshire has said that "It would be wrong to apportion blame. These investments are done with sound advice behind them.", and on this occasion, I agree with him. The bank appears to have met all the relevant lending criteria which councils are advised to follow, and councils have merely been attempting to obtain the best return that they could get.

What I do question, however, is whether it is right that we allow – let alone encourage - councils to place their deposits overseas at all.

I understand the councils' problems; they receive part of their money in large blocks, and they also have to keep prudent levels of reserves for emergencies. As tax-payers, I'm sure we would all prefer that that money was earning interest rather than sitting idle, and we'd want them to be getting the best return. The nature of such investment by councils is also relatively short term – individual councils need to be able to get their hands on the money fairly quickly.

Nevertheless, I still wonder. As I've argued before, I think the biggest economic problem we face in Wales is how to get our GDP per head up to at least the UK average level. I don't see how depositing Welsh assets in foreign banks, even in the short term, is making much of a contribution to that end.

Clearly, given the constraints upon them, councils cannot directly use these funds for long-term investments which would lock up the cash, but perhaps if the councils and other authorities involved were able to act in a more collective fashion, they would have more flexibility overall. The sums invested in Iceland are large, but they're still just a fraction of the total which has been deposited in banks by Welsh authorities. The overall total fluctuates throughout the year, reflecting cash flows, but on any day of the year, there is still a sizeable amount of our money invested in banks and building societies, some of them foreign.

Retaining the money within Wales might well lead to a marginally lower return on investment for the authorities; but if the result was an improvement in the Welsh economy, the overall result for taxpayers would be beneficial. Put another way, 'best rate of interest for authority X' may not be the same as best value for the Welsh economy.

Instead of individual councils stashing away their own cash, why not pool the temporary surpluses of all Welsh public authorities and use at least the core minimum which will always be present to invest in the Welsh economy?


ardibeltza said...

Better still, bank it all in a People's Bank that does not pay out millions to shareholders and directors but is owned by us all.

Unknown said...

And it seemed a really good idea when I read this post.

But your .....

"Retaining the money within Wales ...."


"'best rate of interest for authority X' may not be the same as best value for the Welsh economy."

it is a very agreeable proposition, except ....

Will not the bankers in this notional Welsh bank see to the interests of the bank as a priority, this is what "Bankers" do. But then we have a question, who will be using the deposits for the "best interests of the Welsh economy"?

It can only be a supervising body, of Politicians probably, this is central planning. I think you are offering a "Nationalised Banking System".

John Dixon said...

Not necessarily a 'nationalised banking system' - although we seem to be getting increasingly close to that anyway. But certainly some sort of national investment bank for Wales which ensures that Welsh resources are managed and invested for the benefit of the people of Wales. I can understand why some might not like the idea of national / centralised control; but it is surely better than what we have at the moment where resources which could and should be used at home are simply being exported.