Five questions answered on the Co-op Group’s banking losses

The Co-operative Group announced today heavy financial losses due to problems with its banking division. We answer five questions on the Co-op’s current financial woes.

What losses have the Group recorded?

The Group lost £559m in the first half of 2013, after writing off £496m in bad loans at The Co-op Bank.

These bad loans are mostly related to Britannia Building Society, which merged with the Co-op in 2009.

What other financial troubles does the Group face?

Including the write-downs, Co-op Bank alone reported a total loss of £709m.

It also faces a £1.5bn capital hole in its balance sheet. Regulators say it must fill the gap.

Were these losses anticipated?

Yes. Co-op Group chief executive, Euan Sutherland, who took over the role in May this year, said the Group faced "well-documented challenges”.

He added: "My first few months in the role have been focused on putting in place the recovery plan for the bank," he said, but warned there were "no quick fixes".

Niall Booker, the Co-op Bank's chief executive added: "The underlying issues in the results today are not new.”

How does the Co-op Bank plan to plug the £1.5bn capital hole?

In June this year the bank announced it had struck an agreement with the Prudential Regulation Authority, the bank regulator, to plug the hole, which includes plans for a stock market listing, measures to raise money from bondholders and the sale of its insurance business, planned for 2014.

What are the Co-op Bank’s future plans?

According to Booker:

 "We are now clearly focused on improving the capital position of the Bank... [and] at the same time, we have continued to lend, maintaining our focus on supporting our loyal customers, both in retail and through our continued focus on lending to small and medium-sized businesses."

The Co-operative Group announced today heavy financial losses. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.