It's not surprising that interest rates might finally be on their way up

Carney's warning not all that shocking.

New UK bank governor Mark Carney warned yesterday that interest rates could finally be on their way up after over four years at 0.5 per cent.

The move would not be surprising for a number of reasons:

  • Savers, particularly the elderly, are coming under increasing pressure due the low rates over the past four years.
  • UK house prices have begun to recover. According to figures from the Land Registry, house prices in England & Wales rose by 0.9 per cent in 2012 and by 0.1 per cent in the first four months of 2013. Although this growth is moderate, it does show that the market is stabilizing.
  • The British Pound has deprecated by 5 per cent against the US dollar so far this year. This has impacted on inflation which rose from 2.4 per cent in April 2013 to 2.7 per cent in May 2013.
  • The UK stock market (FTSE 100) is up by 7.6 per cent so far this year in GBP terms and by 3.7 per cent in US dollar terms (as at 19 July 2013).

Increasing rates will a number of effects. It will:

  • Encourage more investment in the UK bond market which will help support the Pound.
  • Reduce consumer spending which will put downward pressure on inflation.
  • Cause people to pull money out of the stock market and move it into cash.
  • Put pressure on the housing market, particularly at the lower end.

The last point is the one that will weigh on the mind of Mark Carney the most. This is mainly due to the fact that over 60 per cent of UK individual wealth is tied up in the property market (according to the ONS). This is one of the highest proportions in the world and explains why the UK’s fate is so heavily linked to property. In contrast, German’s have less than 20 per cent of their individual wealth in property which shows why they are less susceptible to changes in its value.

In GBP terms, UK residential prices have declined by 12 per cent since their peak at the end of 2007 (Source: Land Registry). In US dollar terms the decline has been even more alarming at 34 per cent. This means that the average UK individual has lost over 20 per cent of their US wealth over the past five years due to the decline in property prices.

Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney. Photograph: Getty Images

Andrew Amoils is a writer for WealthInsight

Photo: Getty Images
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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation