The nasty world Vickers missed

In his banking review, John Vickers said there isn’t enough competition among high street banks. He

Doorstep lending and loan sharking is causing misery for thousands of people across the country right now, but a small credit scheme is fighting back in east London and it has had some good news.

Fair Finance, based in Stepney, has raised £1m for its loan book from Société Générale and BNP Paribas so it can offer loans to poor families that are at the mercy of doorstep lenders and loan sharks – no collateral required.

It was set up five years ago by Faisel Rahman to provide funds to those typically rejected by the banks. They typically borrow up to £500 for items such as a new oven or school uniforms.

Fair Finance runs repayment over about a year and charges an annual percentage rate of 44 per cent. It helps customers set up bank accounts and encourages the reporting of loan sharks to the police. Its default rate is just 7 per cent and the company now employs 12 people.

This system of microlending is similar to that of the Grameen Bank, started in Bangladesh by the Nobel prizewinner Professor Muhammad Yunus, now sadly battling opponents of his own after being forced to retire as Grameen's head.

The problem in the UK is that people rejected by banks as being too high a risk resort to doorstep lenders, who bring the cash to your door but charge up to 2,500 per cent. This is big business.

There are two problems at work here. The Competition Commission has warned that there aren't enough lenders prepared to take on the high-risk market (otherwise known as "poor people"). And loan sharks are flourishing because enforcement rules aren't tough enough.

But the Labour MP Stella Creasy has been steering a private member's bill through parliament. The Consumer Credit (Regulation and Advice) Bill was parked in February; however, it will return in October. Here's more about the whole issue in detail.

Trading Standards officers across the country want the bill to become law so that they can work with the police to take on the worst offenders they know by name. Doncaster has been doing some great work this way.

But, on this issue as usual, the anti-regulation-more-red-tape brigade can't see the wood from the trees.

Trading standards officers are council officials, so it would be a big help if the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, backed the bill. Think it through and there's an efficiency saving here which also prevents people falling into deeper problems.

But will Pickles get involved? He may need a little gentle persuading. So why don't you email him and try a bit of "nudge" behavioural change?

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

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

0800 7318496