Thursday, 9 May 2013

Fighting the Government for savers and against inflation (3)

The struggle continues...

No reply to my email of 21 April (see Part 2 of this series) before I sent the following:

Me to MP's researcher, April 27, 2013:

Further to my last email of 6 days ago, perhaps you could spare the time to look at the latest article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. It may give you some idea of why I now (as a former IFA of 23 years' experience in the financial industry) regard the whole bank and trading shebang as irredeemably systemically corrupt. Any government that wishes to retain its claim to authority needs to protect the life savings of the little people.

Do please let me know how you are getting on with framing appropriate questions as previously discussed.
Best wishes
No reply before the following:
Me to MP and his researcher, May 08, 2013:
Perhaps the following may show why asking about NS&I Index-Linked Savings is important and topical - and getting some mainstream interest and airing. Is there any reason to delay the debate much further?

(I read the book myself some time ago.) As Hitchens says, the 1923 Weimar inflation (which my mother's family lived through) is unlikely to be repeated here - but the damage is great even if it happens a little more slowly. 10% inflation for 7 years will halve the value of money.

Should we really leave Parliamentary comment on inflation to Ed Miliband, thus suggesting by implication that the Coalition is unconcerned?
Best wishes
Reply from researcher, with copy to MP, May 08, 2013:
Apologies for not processing this in the last two weeks – all questions fell at prorogation in April and after I last emailed you it is not likely we would have had a response in time. We have been in recess for the last week in any event where Questions could not be tabled.

We are now able to table a question with the new session opening today – Last time I looked at this I was wondering if you had a more specific question in mind than the general one I gave you on the 12th March (Below) Which you responded to on the 21st April after I emailed you again on the 18th April.

'To ask the Chancellor of the exchequer what steps he has taken or plans to undertake to maintain the value of savings against increased inflation and devaluations of the pound.’

You’ve sent me the below on May 3rd, it would be helpful if you could clarify if you are worried about individual or also state ‘savings’ – on the second the financial Savings Guarantee Scheme at present does guarantee savings under £85,000 in the event of systemic banking collapse or other smaller bank failure without penalty to the individual or value of the saved amount but the government will only be able to clarify that it has no intention to bring in a new bank bailout ‘tax’ of any kind for sums under that amount and no future government action is bound by a previous one – the government does not take the view, at present at least, that the Proposed (and rejected) tax on savings under or over a protected amount should be taxed in any way, (although it would consider funds over that sum forfeit in the case of bankruptcy, for example) to the best of my knowledge.

1. How to set aside money and preserve its spending value, without being eroded by inflation and taxes and without being forced to accept any kind of investment risk;
2. How to be sure that no portion of savings below the deposit insurance ceiling will not be seized in some form of bank bail-in or pseudo-tax, but be payable in the form and to the schedule expected by the saver.

As such I might suggest this amended question as a draft off the top of my head and would welcome any comments or amendments you want to make.

'To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he has taken or plans to undertake to maintain the value of savings against increased inflation or devaluations of the pound, if he has given thought to the taxation of savings by the Exchequer in various forms putting off individuals from saving some of their earned income by eroding the investments value, if he shares a concern that efforts to tax the small scale saved income of individuals to rescue financial institutions, such as measures debated by the Cypriot Parliament recently as part of the European Union’s and International Monetary Funds’ bailout terms undermine general confidence and what measures he can or will take to reassure individual savers that their investment will not be used to rescue institutions which have grossly mismanaged their affairs and thus be penalised, via the reduction of the value of their savings, for the mistakes of risk takers on a systemic financial level.’

If we can agree a draft I can get it to the table office as a written question as soon as you are happy and John is comfortable tabling it.


Me to researcher (copy to MP), May 09, 2013:

Thank you for your response. Again I must say that the issues are sufficiently important to ask orally on the floor of the House, rather than be buried in writing. I have already seen what a written answer from the Treasury is like. Am I mistaken in thinking that oral PMQs and questions to Ministers raise matters in the way that is most likely to result in prompt and effective action?

There are two separate issues and I'd suggest that they be pursued separately. One is inflation, the other is expropriation. The questions need to be pin-sharp specific to prevent wriggle, deflection, partial answers and waffle.

On the first, I think the question should focus on the need to restore NS&I Index-Linked Savings Certificates. Hansard links I gave you earlier showed that protecting the small saver was recognised as a "social obligation" - by both sides of the House - when they were first introduced in 1975.

On the second, you will doubtless know that the first proposal in the Cyprus bank affair was to take money off even those who had less than 100k Euro in their accounts. It doesn't matter whether it's dressed up as a tax, a bail-in or forced conversion to bank shares; up to the insured amount, savers should be able to transfer or extract all their cash. Once that principle is breached, no money in any European bank is safe and that will spell the end of the system as we know it.

A suggestion for (1):

"Is the [Minister/PM] aware that National Savings Index-Linked Savings Certificates were introduced in 1975 as a form of social justice to savers affected by inflation, as is made clear by exchanges in this House on 10 July 1975, and will he now instruct NS&I to make them permanently available again without further delay?"

Hansard reference (10 July 1975):

A suggestion for (2):

"Will the [Minister/PM] give a guarantee on behalf of the British Government that savings covered by the terms and limits of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme will be fully protected against ad hoc restrictions of access, bank bail-ins and other forms of expropriation or forced conversion?"

Best wishes

MP to me (copy to researcher), May 09, 2013:

I tend not to do Oral questions. They don't have any real effect on government policy and it is a lottery as to whether you have the opportunity to ask one. Hence we can put in a treasury oral each time treasury come up (about every 3 weeks) and at some point it may be asked (perhaps at the 3rd or 4th time of asking) or we can put in a written question and get a response in just over 5 days.

Me to MP, May 09, 2013:

Thank you. Whatever works, is what matters, to paraphrase Alastair Campbell. I look forward to the response. I can only hope it's better than the patronising drivel I got from Lord Sassoon.

MP to me, May 09, 2013:

I can,of course, go for an adjournment debate to have a longer session. I do think it is an issue to give some attention to. However, we should start with written questions and letters.

Me to MP, May 09, 2013:

Thank you for your response.

We've had Lord Sassoon's letter 10 months ago (25.07.2012) in response to your letter to the Chancellor's office dated 02 July 2012, so presumably we're past that point and into follow-up. And how hard can it be simply to instruct NS&I to resume doing what it had previously done for an unbroken period of 35 years through thick and thin? This is not a new or complex matter, I would submit.

MP to me (copy to researcher), May 09, 2013:

I am on the train at the moment and would have to get a copy of the letters to hand to comment.

Me to MP, May 09, 2013 (6 minutes after the last):

I can help, to a degree. I don't have a note of what you wrote to the Chancellor's office, but here is the text of Lord Sassoon's letter:

"Dear Mr Hemming

Thank you for your letter of 2 July to George Osborne regarding correspondence from your constituent [...] about National Savings and Investments (NS&I). I am replying as Minister responsible for this policy area.

I appreciate that your constituent is concerned about savings in the current climate of relatively high inflation and low interest rates and is disappointed that Savings Certificates are no longer on sale. It is important, though, to recognise that inflation has come down from 5.2 per cent in September 2011 to 2.4 per cent in June 2012. The Government continues to give priority to reducing the impact of rising prices on families and businesses including through the recently announced deferral of fuel duty increases, which means that petrol prices will be 10p per litre lower than they would have been under the previous Government's plans.

NS&I provide cost-effective retail debt finance to Government. The money invested in their products contributes to the Government's overall debt financing remit. In doing this, NS&I follow a policy of balancing the interest of savers and the taxpayer with the stability of the financial services market. While doing so they aim to meet the financing objective set each year by HM Treasury.

It might be helpful if I explain the reasons why NS&I withdrew their Savings Certificates.

In July 2010, the popularity of both their index-linked and Fixed-interest Savings Certificates reached unprecedented levels and sales volumes far exceeded those either anticipated or required by NS&I to meet their financing target set by HM Treasury. Because of this, they took the difficult decision to take Certificates off sale on 18 July 2010. This change however did not affect existing customers.

The March 2011 budget confirmed NS&I's Net Financing target for 2011-12 as £2 billion with a range of £0-4 billion. To achieve this, they needed inflows of some £14 billion from sales and reinvestments during the year which gave them the ability to reintroduce one 5-year term of Savings Certificates on 12 May 2011. Their aim was to keep them on sale for a sustained period of time to enable as many savers as possible to invest.

As they expected, the Savings Certificates proved very popular and in just under four months they had received over 500,000 transactions. In order to stay within the Net Financing target range for the year, at this point they had to withdraw the certificates from sale.

Existing NS&I Savings Certificates customers can, on maturity, keep their investment for another term of the same length. Alternatively, they can reinvest into any of the other Savings Certificates terms and issues on offer to existing customers.

In more general terms, the Government wants a saving system based on freedom, fairness and responsibility, which is both affordable and effective.

To support and encourage savers the Government has:
  • ensured the amount that people can save tax-free is not eroded by inflation by indexing the amount that can be paid into ISAs each year. This means that the Government has increased ISA limits by £600 this year, including an extra £300 for cash ISAs;
  • announced at Budget 2012 that Government will work with industry to improve competitiveness and transparency in the ISA market, particularly by encouraging the industry to work towards faster ISA transfers;
  • introduced Junior ISAs, offering parent a clear, simple and tax-free way to save for their child's future;
  • confirmed that employees will have a new duty to automatically enrol qualifying employees into a pension scheme from October 2012. This has the potantial to encourage 5 to 8 million more people to start saving or save more into a workplace pension scheme. The Government is also establishing the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) to provide a low-cost, high-quality pension scheme for individuals not currently served by the market;
  • set up the Money Advice Service to offer free and impartial information and advice on all money matters available online at , face-to-face, or by calling its helpline on 0300 500 5000. The Money Advice Service also launched a financial health check to help people proactively manage their money. It also publishes comparative tables of savings accounts and the interest rates offered; and
  • given individuals more choice over the use of their pension savings to provide a retirement income by removing the effective requirement to purchase an annuity by age 75.
Please pass on my thanks to Mr Norfolk for taking the trouble to make us aware of these concerns.

Yours sincerely

James Sassoon


... and here is my reaction:

"Thank you for forwarding Lord Sassoon's letter, which arrived here yesterday. It is not at all up to the standard that I would expect from a Treasury mind; in fact, it is little short of a disgrace.

The first page confirms what I suspected, that the present Government is concerned only with its own funding needs and not at all with what should be its commitment to savers, not to say the currency (which according to the BoE's own website has lost 99% of its value since 1900). As you know, National Savings Index-Linked Certificates were introduced in 1975, a year in which RPI inflation was, as I said to you before, 24.2%. If the government of the day could bring in this product at such a time of crisis and galloping inflation, I cannot see any justification for the present hiatus.

The point about the present level of inflation is useless. Savers need to know for sure that their money retains its spending power over the chosen period, not to be informed from time to time that RPI may have temporarily dipped.

The second page slides further downhill into irrelevant party political nonsense. To be specific about its failures to address the subject, I will take each of Lord Sassoon's points in order:

  • The cash ISA limit has nothing whatever to do with maintaining the purchasing power of cash.
  • ISA transfers, ditto.
  • Junior ISAs, ditto.
  • The NEST pension scheme is not a savings vehicle but an investment vehicle, a distinction that surely cannot have escaped someone with Lord Sassoon's background in the financial services industry. The nearest to cash within pension funds is either money market funds (which have a big fat question mark over them at the moment, I can tell you as an IFA) or bank/building society cash funds that (a) usually offer a significantly lower rate than cash ISAs and (b) are (except perhaps for SIPPs) not covered by the FSCS in the way that individually held accounts are (see the Pensions Advisory Service's article here).
  • The Money Advice Service is also irrelevant to the purchasing power of cash savings.
  • Changes to the requirement to purchase an annuity at age 75, ditto."

Best wishes,

MP to me (copy to researcher), May 09, 2013:

I will ask Martin to draft a letter along the lines of your response.

Me to MP, May 09, 2013:

I would be greatly obliged if we skirted round Lord Sassoon's letter, which is nothing but a large catch of red herrings, and, whether by oral or written question (whichever in your professional opinion and experience is likely to get the more expeditious and effective response) ask the two questions I drafted for your researcher this morning, namely:

"Is the [Minister/PM] aware that National Savings Index-Linked Savings Certificates were introduced in 1975 as a form of social justice to savers affected by inflation, as is made clear by exchanges in this House on 10 July 1975, and will he now instruct NS&I to make them permanently available again without further delay?"


"Will the [Minister/PM] give a guarantee on behalf of the British Government that savings covered by the terms and limits of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme will be fully protected against ad hoc restrictions of access, bank bail-ins and other forms of expropriation or forced conversion?"
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Paddington said...

Ok, Don Quixote. Would you like a helmet?

Sackerson said...

Any help I can get.