The “blank sheet of paper” is being filled. Ed Miliband will announce today that a Labour government would establish a new network of regional banks as partners of a British Investment Bank. In his speech at the British Chambers of Commerce conference this morning, he will say: “We do not just need a single investment serving the country. We need a regional banking system serving each and every region of the country.
“Regional banks with a mission to serve that region and that region alone, not banks that are likely to say no but banks that know your region and your business; not banks that you mistrust, but banks you can come to trust.”
The policy, like much of Miliband’s political economy, has a distinctly German flavour. Last February, Chuka Umunna visited the country to study the Sparkassen, locally managed banks with a duty to promote growth in economically underdeveloped regions. The shadow business secretary said:
There is quite a lot we can learn, in particular from the savings banks here, the Sparkassen, which have a much better relationship, if you like, with their businesses, the people here, their banking structure’s very local in its nature, the people running those local banks really understand and get to know the businesses, so they’re in a good position to assess the risk and provide the support needed to.
Labour’s Small Business Taskforce, which publishes its final report today, has identified the lack of finance for small and medium sized enterprises as one of the factors restricting growth and innovation. It suggests that a new German-style network of regional banks (dubbed “Sparks”) could help promote a more balanced economy.
There are important details to be worked out, most notably where the banks will operate and how they will be capitalised, but this is an encouraging example of Miliband’s long-term focus on rebuilding “the foundations” of the economy.