Tuesday, 20 July 2010

A short public information film

Don't say you never learn anything here!


Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Tossing a coin.

Blogging ideas are like buses... you wait all week (humble apologies, dear reader) for one to come along, and you end up with two arriving at once... So what is it to be - banks or The Archers...

Well, having tossed a coin, it's going to be about banking policy. My love of The Archers will have to wait.

In the course of my work today, I came across this story on Citywire. The first paragraph piqued my interest:
"Stephen Hester [Chief Executive of RBS] says taxpayers can and should make a profit on the banking bailout, but new Treasury Committee chairman, Andrew Tyrie, says the government should instead focus on improving competition."
Surely these two aims aren't mutually exclusively? We must ensure we make money on the direct investments we have in the banks, and that we recoup the indirect aid given to the banking sector as a whole. Doing so doesn't preclude working to create a new environment within the industry.

Of course, Mr Tyrie has a point - working to improve competition will be easier while we hold a stake in the industry, so any rush to divest to divest UK Financial Investments holdings will weaken the government's hand. That said, the larger holdings - RBS and Lloyds/HBoS - were always going to be long-term investments, in my opinion.

So what should the government be doing?

Well, Vince Cable wants to introduce a UK version of Glass-Steagall. Although in agreement with the general principle - the separation of Investment Banking from Retail Banking, I'm slightly uneasy about the idea of enforcing it on the market. While RBS and Lloyds are public property, HSBC and Barclays survived the worst of the financial crisis without direct government support. To insist they divest their investment banking arms would be, in my view, unjust.

I would like to see the following priorities followed:

  • Re-focusing on retail banking - particularly RBS and Lloyds. While I'd be reticent about seeing these companies butchered, both have large businesses in a variety of sectors. For example, Lloyds has Scottish Widows and Clerical Medical while RBS has Direct Line and Churchill. I'm not suggesting a wholesale sell off, but some divestment, in the right circumstances, should help strengthen the balance sheets while potentially increasing shareholder value.
  • Application of competition policy - allied to the above, the current enforced sales of surplus branches should, hopefully, encourage new entrants to the banking sector. The arrival of Virgin and Tesco should be viewed as a positive step towards bringing a new approach to the high street banking.
  • Facilitating and easing access to the sector - competition should not be feared by the state owned banks. It should encourage them to be more effective and be more innovative in developing customer service.
  • Strengthening balance sheets - this is surely just prudent following recent experience.
  • Promote responsible lending - although this may sound at odds with improving balance sheets, and today's definition of "responsible" differs from that prior to the recession., government should be seeking ways to ensure the banks allow business and individuals access to credit during the recovery. This will be all the more important when public sector cuts take effect.
Of course, none of these ideas are startlingly original and many of the above points are contained in the coalition agreement. We are lucky to have a Business Secretary who has studied the area closely who will have his own approach.

I look forward to seeing what proposals the coalition does bring forward. Recent events have created an opportunity to radically change banking and financial services (and it's regulation, but that's another story) - the government should look to do what it can to aid the process.


Thursday, 8 July 2010

1 whole year of blogging!

Unbelievably, it's a year since I started this blog. To still be making regular contributions is something of an achievement, given my past record of starting things only to let them fall by the wayside after a few weeks.

To celebrate the first anniversary, here are links to some of my favourite posts from the past year:
I've enjoyed re-visiting these and wonder if they'll still feature amongst my favourites for my second anniversary! Only time will tell...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Jenson and Lewis Double Header

Ahead of the British Grand Prix this weekend, here are two videos featuring Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.

The first shows them in a warehouse which is home to dozens of old McLaren F1 cars - the focus is the MP4-4 which dominated the 1988 championship. The second is a promotional video for Vodafone in which they try to construct this years car from its consituent parts.



Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Lib Dem Blogs

As regular readers will know, the election re-ignited my life-long interest in politics. I've also re-joined the Liberal Democrats, having been a supported since I was a teenager, and a member in the early to mid 2000's.

Recently I've started to follow a variety of political blogs, and have found LibDemBlogs. It's an aggregator of blogs written by Liberal Democrat members, although not all necessarily political blogs. It's well worth a browse, so go and explore!

As of this post, I'm also listed there, so if that's how you've found me, welcome! Visit the directory for an overview of my blog and if you're looking for my politics related posts, click here. Feel free to have a good nosey, leave comments or drop me a message!


Reading Update

Regular readers will have noticed a lack of book reviews in the past couple of months. This is because I'm going through one of my periodic reading droughts.

The last book I read was Ian Rankin's Doors Open, which I fear I never reviewed here. I finished it at the tail end of April., just before I moved house. Unfortunately, moving house and the establishment of a new routine has squeezed my reading. Although I made a start to Vince Cable's The Storm, I never made much progress and fell out of the habit of making time each day to read it.

I'm writing this on Sunday night and hope that by the time of publication on Tuesday I shall have made some movement towards re-establishing a reading regime. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a brief review of Doors Open.

Unfortunately the way my mind works, specific details of books and films are quickly lost and I'm left with over-riding impressions, so please forgive the lack of detail:

I like Ian Rankin and to a point I like his books. The Rebus novels are ripping yarns and being set in Edinburgh, my former residence, makes them all the more appealing. I was intrigued to read Doors Open, his first "post-Rebus" novel, told largely from the point of view of the perpetrator of the crime rather than the investigator.

Mike Mackenzie, a multi-millionaire with time on his hands and an appreciation for art - and the value of art - finds himself involved in a plot to stage a heist of several works from the warehouse of the National Galleries of Scotland. His fellow plotters include a Professor from the College of Art, his private banker and a local criminal big wig but can they all be trusted?

The story was quite thin and a bit contrived and the characters were under-developed. That said, it was well enough told and had a bit of a twist at the end. Ultimately, the best thing about it was the setting and being able to picture the various locations really well - it brought it alive in away which an anonymous setting wouldn't have. That said, I still want to read more of Rankin, particularly The Complaints... and his Twitter feed!


Monday, 5 July 2010

5 on the 5th for July

Here's my entry for Stephen's 5 on the 5th. This month's suggested theme was either "this past weekend" or "I don't like Mondays"...

Unfortunately, I had a lazy weekend of doing not terribly, so nothing photo-worthy there. It's not fair to say I don't like Mondays either - so here are some photos taken in my lunchtime when I went out for a short walk.

From top to bottom:
  • Sign on the door of an empty shop
  • Bristol Cathedral
  • An original Banksy
  • 17th Centuary Alms Houses
  • Street Art
Hope you enjoyed and make sure and follow this link to see the other entries.


Sunday, 4 July 2010

Resolution Check 5

It's time for another review of this years resolutions. Just a reminder of what they are:
  • Continue to reassess, manage and improve my finances
  • Lose some weight/get fitter
  • Read more books than last year - say 25-30
  • Blog around every 2-3 days (c. 147 posts)
  • Re-start my entries to Three Positive Things and explore positive psychology further
  • Commence work on a piece of fiction of my own (other than this list!)
So here we go:

I've sold my car which has released new funds each month, which should make things easier. I've also re-established a spreadsheet to monitor and control spending and to aid budgeting.

I've still no idea if I'm either losing weight or getting fitter! Sometimes it feels I am and other times not... I think I'm eating healthier, though.

My book reading is still stalled - even as I type The Storm by Vince Cable is winking at me wanting read.

Am back on an even keel with blogging, and still meeting target of an entry every 2-3 days on average.

No further progress on my other blog, or my own writing plans.

Progress on my editing of my friends novel has stalled - a project to return to in April, erm May, erm June, erm July...

So, less progress than hoped for in June, but things very positive!


Saturday, 3 July 2010

Another fantastic Muppets video

This is Genius:



Iconic Images 7

I've chosen another two classic album covers for the latest Iconic Images post - this time Madonna's True Blue from the 80's and Blur's 1994 album, Parklife.