A couple weeks in, the FPC is ALREADY calling for "drastic reform"

Bank of England’s Andy Haldane calls 'em like he sees ‘em.

It seems a bit odd for one of the key figures in the UK’s newly installed financial regulatory structure to be calling for drastic reform of bank regulation already, but the Bank of England’s Andy Haldane seems to be calling them like he sees ‘em nonetheless.

Haldane is executive director of financial stability for the Bank’s Financial Policy Committee (FPC), the forward-looking systemic risk identifier created alongside the FCA and PRA as a result of 2012’s Financial Services act.

Given his position, it was interesting to hear him identify a “Byzantine” regulatory structure as a credible threat to the stability of the banking system, at a dinner held by the International Financial Law Review (IFLR) yesterday.

Complex regulation, he said, has only acted to the advantage of those with most resources to devote to exploiting gaps in the rules, arguing instead that “Simple measures of bank leverage, untainted by such complexity, were ten times better at predicting banking failure during the crisis than complex regulatory alternatives.”

Along with proposing a leverage ratio “north, possibly well north” of international requirements (a view that makes sense given Haldane’s work on the Basel committee), he suggested a “restructuring rule” facilitating simple wind-downs of banking operations, and a “resolution rule” governing restructuring, as the main building blocks of a stripped-down regulatory system.

Perhaps the most insightful back-to-basics comment made by Haldane this week, however, came at an event held the day before the IFLR dinner by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Speaking on the subject of executive bonuses, he built on comments made in January (regarding the proposed deferral of bonuses by ten years to encourage prudence) to suggest that debt, rather than equity, should make up the mainstay of management compensation structures.

“Equity can give strange incentives” to the management of banks in crisis, he argued, adding that during the financial crisis, “many big firms gambled for their resurrection when, if you look at how top management was remunerated, it was heavily in equity.”

Debt elements facing wipeout in the event of business failure, he explained, could act as a major counter to these “strange incentives” if built into pay structure, concluding that “more can and should be done to have those sorts of debt form a larger part of compensation structures.”

This approach – to look at the incentives that drive how banks behave, rather than creating a web of rules to restrict what is possible – feels very much in line with the current zeitgeist.

Steven D. Levitt, the economics world’s answer to Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, had this to say in the first chapter of bestselling pop-econ book Freakonomics:

“The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented a problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme. His solution may not always be pretty -- it may involve coercion or exorbitant penalties or the violation of civil liberties -- but the original problem, rest assured, will be fixed. An incentive is a bullet, a lever, a key: an often tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation.”

With this in mind, it’s tempting to think that a creative look at executive remuneration, a subject which currently enrages a large slice of the world’s population, and which has been blamed for a lot of the misery to affect global markets since 2008, may be the tool capable of cutting the Gordian knot of post-crisis regulation.  

Photograph: Getty Images

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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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.

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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.