Has the pound turned the corner against the Euro?

As the Italian <em>tuttishambles</em> starts to bite, the currency wars get interesting.

Yesterday saw morning saw a mild spike in the EUR/GBP exchange rate, peaking at £0.8807 to the euro before the results of the Italian election started to become clear and the Euro collapsed:

 

The spike was widely attributed to the Moody's downgrade, and, insofar as any single cause can be found, it probably was. But it was reported very differently depending on how important the downgrade was felt to be. For instance, whereas I wrote that the pound was "only slightly down against the Euro", others framed the same information as "a new 52-week low".

Both are, of course, true. The pound hit its peak against the Euro last July and has been steadily declining ever since:

 

Even after improving against the Euro on the back of the news from Italy, you would still have to go back over a year to find the last time before 2013 when the EUR/GBP was so high:

So when we say "the pound hit a 52 week low" after the Moody's downgrade, it's technically correct, but only gets the truth across if you bear in mind that the pound also hit a 52 week low before the Moody's downgrade.

In part, that continued collapse is to do with matters beyond the control of British policy. Until recently, the currency was a safe haven, isolated from the contusions of the eurozone and the US fiscal cliff. That boosted it higher than its resting level, and as the fiscal cliff was sorted and the dust cleared revealing a eurozone still standing.

But it's also an artefact of the growing evidence that the Bank of England is prepared to put up with significantly higher inflation than normal, as well as the perennial driver of all Britain's economic fortunes, our anaemic growth.

In a way, despite the focus on Japan's increasingly aggressive attempts to drive down the yen, it's us who are actually winning the currency wars. The problem is that we aren't getting a huge amount for our victory. Despite what theory says ought to happen, Britain's exports remain flat, and our homegrown industry isn't seeing any benefit either. Meanwhile, the cost of living for Brits soars correspondingly.

It you're looking for the upside of the Italian tuttishambles, then, it's that: your imported truffles and holidays to the French Riviera will finally start to come back down in price.

What do you mean you don't import truffles?

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

David Cameron's prisons speech could be the start of something good

If the Prime Minister puts his words into action, then this speech could mark the beginning of a big shift on prisons policy. 

David Cameron’s speech condemning prisons as violent and failing could herald a seismic change in policy. He is absolutely right to point to the waste of money, effort and lives that characterises today’s prison system. He is also right about the direction of travel that needs to be taken and some of his ideas are at the very least worthy of discussion. The most important reform was missing, as none of his aspirations can happen unless the sheer number of men, women and children in prison is cut, and cut radically. Sentencing reform is the lynchpin.

The detailed proposals will be scrutinised as they are rolled out over the coming months, but the urgent over-riding challenge is to cut the prison population. Last week the number of men in prison increased by 185, and in the last four weeks the prison population has gone up by 684 men and women. Prison overcrowding is not standing still, it is rapidly deteriorating.

Chris Grayling closed 18 prisons and wings, reallocating the population into the shrunk estate. He cut prison staff by more than a third in each prison. The result was overcrowded, understaffed, violent prisons full of drugs and very disaffected staff trying to control frustrated prisoners on restricted regimes.

I was expecting some thinking on who we send to prison and what we do with them when they are incarcerated to create the conditions for radical reform. I was disappointed as the proposals were oddly reminiscent of things that Labour tried and contributed to this mess in the first place.

Labour was very proud of building lots of new prisons, hoping that they would build their way out of an overcrowding crisis. What happened of course was that new prisons were filled even before they were completed so the old prisons couldn’t be closed. Today we hear that £1.3 billion will be spent on building ‘reform prisons’ that will pilot new ways of working. My worry is that they will become warehouses unless the sheer number of prisons is restricted and resources are allocated to allow for just the sort of flexibility being proposed.

Giving governors more autonomy sounds good, and I support it in principle, but they always used to have their own budgets with discretion to choose how to spend it, including commissioning education and other services. It is no good having increased autonomy if they are constantly firefighting an overcrowding crisis and not given the resources, including well trained prison staff, to implement new ideas.

We already have league tables for prisons. Every few months assessments of how prisons are performing are published, along with regular inspections and independent boards monitor conditions. Reoffending rates are published but this information is less robust as prisoners tend to move round the system so how can one establishment be accountable.

I was pleased to hear that work inside prisons is going to be a key reform. But, the Prime Minister referred to a small project in one prison. Projects with desultory training in the few hours that men get to spend out of their cells will not instil a work ethic or achieve work readiness. Prisoners get a pack of cereals and a teabag at night so they don’t have breakfast, are not showered or clean, are wearing sweaty and shabby clothes.

Every day men and women are released from prison to go to work in the community as part of their programme of reintegration. This is extremely successful with incredibly few failures. So what is the point of adding extra expense to the public by tagging these people, unless the purpose is just to feed the coffers of the private security companies.

There are imaginative ways of using technology but what was being suggested today looks as though it is just adding restrictions by tracking people. That would be neither creative nor effective.

David Cameron is looking to his legacy. I fear that I could be listening to a Prime Minister in five or ten years bewailing the dreadful prison conditions in institutions that are no different to today’s overcrowded dirty prisons, except that they were built more recently. He will have achieved a massive investment of capital into expanding the penal estate but, whilst there will be more prisons, even the new jails could be overcrowded, stinking and places of inactivity and violence.

I want the Prime Minister to look back on today’s speech with pride because it achieved humanity in a system that is currently failing. I would like to see a prison system in decades to come that is purposeful, with men and women busy all day, getting exercise for the mind, body and soul. I would like to see prisons that only hold people who really need to be there because they have committed serious and violent crimes but whose lives will be turned around, who achieve redemption in their own eyes and that of victims and the public.

My job is to hold him to account for this vision. If what he announced today achieves radical reform and changes lives for the better, I will cheer. I will be watching.

Frances Crook is the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.