Libor: what about the regulators?

More light needs to be shone on the FSA.

It’s hard to know who to point the finger at when it comes to the Barclays’ culture of deceit. While most are simply blaming the bankers, Ann Pettifor, for one, blames the economists. Others, meanwhile, are blaming the regulators. 

One should probably blame all three (not to mention politicians), but if an enquiry is to be pursued, more light certainly needs to be shone on the regulators. The Times yesterday implicates the Bank of England in the Libor scandal, suggesting they may have not only condoned the system of manipulation but actively encouraged it. From our experience this doesn’t appear to be at all far-fetched.

Looking into the role of the finance sector in commodity speculation, we became increasingly disturbed by the lax approach adopted by the FSA. When we dug deeper, we found that the FSA was lobbying the European Union on behalf of the City, to prevent effective regulation of speculation by Brussels. 

As the FSA is paid for by the City, almost entirely governed by the City or ex-City bankers, and with virtually no transparency, its weak approach to Barclays’ failings should come as no surprise. This is in stark contrast to US authorities, who imposed fines on Barclays almost 4 times greater than those levied by the FSA.

Barclays has been at the heart of commodity speculation activity AND at the heart of fighting off any regulation. A letter to the Commodities Futures Trading Commision in the US, urges a light touch approach.  However WDM research has exposed Barclays as the biggest UK bank involved in speculation in the commodity derivative markets, which has contributed to price spikes such as those in 2008 and 2011 which pushed millions into hunger and deeper poverty. While the bank claimed under pressure at its 2012 AGM that it only facilitated deals for third parties, the reality is a little more complex, with Barclays' risk-taking approach to dealing suggesting that it effectively speculates itself. They state of the Barclays Capital’s Commodities division that “Our Commodities Traders build ‘trading books’ specialising in goods from energy products to agricultural assets, all over the world.”  

As we gear up for a new regulatory model under the aegis of the Bank of England, we have to question about the direction. And we have to ask questions about the relationship between the regulators and Barclays in particular. Now that more evidence has come to light of the failings of the regulators, and their incestuous relationship with the banks they’re meant to oversee, nothing short of a complete overhaul of the banking and regulatory system will suffice.

The numbers:

Barclays

  • Fines imposed by the FSA: £59m
  • Fines imposed by US Authorities: £230m
  • Earnings from speculation on commodity derivatives: £189m/year
  • Statement from Bob Diamond at the Barclays AGM: “our traders are not involved in direct speculation.”

FSA

Board of Directors:

  • 26 of 36 members of the board linked to the Finance sector since 2000 before or after appointment
  • 9 continued to hold appointments in financial corporations while at the FSA
  • Board Directors linked to consumers or other stakeholder: 1

Meetings held with the finance sector about European Markets in Financial Instruments Directive

  • 87 per cent of all meetings held with industry bodies
  • Only 1 meeting held with a third party stakeholder

Deborah Doane is the director of the World Development Movement

FSA. Photograph, Getty Images.
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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.