Does Mark Carney really deserve his reputation as a super-banker?

The new Bank of England governor shouldn't be given so much credit for Canada's economic success.

Super-banker Mark Carney negotiated an impressive 30 per cent increase in remuneration, in the form of pension contributions, providing him with a total of £624,000 a year for the Bank of England job. This was not agreed by the remuneration committee but was negotiated by the Treasury (George Osborne) and agreed by the bank’s non-executive directors.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back to 1938 in Cleveland, Ohio, and be in the room when Joe Shuster created comic book hero Superman. I don’t have a time machine, but I was in London in November 2012 when super-banker Mark Carney was invented. So since we’re all having to put our hands in our pockets and pay this man his extravagant salary, maybe we should dispel a few myths before going any further. Gushing Osborne describes him as an "outstanding candidate" in the press release. He loves Carney for "avoiding big bail outs and securing growth." So is that what super-banker really did?

Canada has always had a conservative banking industry and its banks were not over-exposed on entering the credit crunch. The country avoided the crisis in every way except for being the neighbour of the USA, which did cause a short term shock. Carney arrived at the Bank of Canada in February 2008, when the world crisis was already in full swing. It would be impossible for him to have implemented policy that retrospectively saved Canada from turmoil. He was simply there when nothing happened and is happy for people to believe he is a genius as a result.

As for Osborne’s comment on "securing growth"? The fact is that countries like Canada and Australia are rich in resources at a time when the expansion of China has created massive demand for them. Carney didn’t arrange for the rise of China, although if someone had attributed it to him, you can bet he’d allow the myth to perpetuate.

For Canada, the last five years have been so benign that Carney could have turned up to work and played ping pong all day. Yet, here we are, pouring praise on him. We know how Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown would respond to a major financial crisis, because they were there, for good or ill. We don’t know how this guy would be in a crisis, because he’s never been in one. Yet he’s a genius, according to George Osborne.

Osborne has returned regulation to the Bank of England, in the bizarre belief that it can do a better job. This obviously ignores BCCI and Barings. Carney is supposedly qualified as a regulator as he has private banking experience at Goldman Sachs. However, it seems that he advised Russian on their 1998 financial crisis while Goldman was simultaneously betting against the country's ability to repay its debt. This bloke doesn’t know what’s happening right under his own nose, yet he’s in charge of London?

The US has much more experience of capitalism than us, and they always, rightly, have a lawyer in charge of regulation. In a recent TV interview Adair Turner, another economist, didn’t know whether Libor cheating would constitute fraud. He was in charge of City regulation at the time. Yet here we have another economist being put in charge of regulation, when the job should go to a lawyer.

For a central banker he does at least have a very smart suit. Maybe that’s why we’re paying him an extra £144,000 of our money each year. Let’s look on the bright side, George Clooney would have wanted even more.

Dan McCurry is a photographer in east London and a Labour activist. He is a former chair of the Bow Labour Party.

The new governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who previously served as the head of the Bank of Canada. Photograph: Getty Images.

Dan McCurry  is a photographer in east London and a Labour activist. He is a former chair of the Bow Labour Party.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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