Welcome to our July newsletter. Summer means picnics and barbeques, workshops at festivals and inspection of accounts (doesn’t it?). Here are our news for the month!

NEWS


Why we need a cap on credit card costs

The End the Debt Trap campaign published a report on regulating the credit card market with a launch event in Parliament on 9 July. We are part of a coalition of organisations campaigning to cap the costs of all consumer credit so no one would have to pay back more in fees and interest than they originally borrowed. A cap was put in place for payday loans in 2015, and we demand it should be extended to all types of loans.

It was a moving event, with East Londoners we work with telling of their personal experiences with debt problems. A cross-party group of MPs – Labour’s Yvonne Fovargue, Conservatives’ Sir David Amess and Liberal Democrats’ Sir Vince Cable – pledged to ask the Parliament and the Financial Conduct Authority to cap credit card costs.

Open letter on FCA lack of action on predatory lending

Research for Action also joined 27 other campaign organisations, charities and think tanks in an open letter calling John Glen, the economic secretary to the Treasury, to investigate the Financial Conduct Authority’s lack of action on the growing personal debt crisis. Nearly three million households spend more than a quarter of their income on debt repayments, and nearly half of them have incomes less than £15,000 a year.

Open letter: When the UN calls out poverty in the UK, the government must listen

 At the end of June Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, who visited the UK last year, presented to the UN his report on poverty in the UK. We submitted evidence to his inquiry and spoke at a hearing in Newham during his visit. Alston has strongly condemned the UK government for its responsibility for rising inequality, receiving in exchange attacks from politicians rather than commitments to address the issue. We were among 50 signatories to an open letter to the government, demanding they engage with international human rights bodies and listen to the people affected by austerity policies. 

#Co-opFortnight

Not all of you may be aware that Research for Action is a worker co-operative… and we are proud to be one! It means we are collectively owned by our members and we run our organisation democratically. 

From late June to early July the Co-op Fortnight, organised by Co-operatives UK, brought together co-ops from around the country to spread the word about co-ops. Media coverage reached over 35 million people and the #Co-opFortnight hashtag alone had a reach of millions. We participated online but also in person, with Vica attending the London co-ops connection meet-up.

Council pensions in trouble following investment fund collapse

Trouble at Woodford Investments has again revealed problems with local authority investments. When Kent County Council tried to withdraw £263m from its council staff pensions pot, the fund manager at Woodford froze the funds instead. Understandably, this has concerned workers not only in Kent council but others that have investments with Woodford. It also raises questions about private funds gambling with public sector money and the lack of oversight. The company that was supposed to oversee Woodford’s investment portfolios is Link, which two years ago acquired Capita, a familiar name from outsourcing and advise that have previously troubled councils.

Joel is quoted in the Guardian article, and also FT has covered the story in depth.

LOBO loans, LIBOR and financial regulation

Joel was the keynote speaker at Henley Business School’s (University of Reading) residential course for MSc students in Financial Regulation. He gave a lecture on LOBO loans and received a lot of interest from the audience.   

In further engagement with the financial regulators, Vica attended the launch of Oonagh McDonald’s book “Holding Bankers to Account”. The author is a former MP, a former Shadow Treasury Secretary, a former non-executive director of the SIB, the FCA and the Investors Compensation Scheme. The purpose of the book is to provide a clear and documented account of the manipulation of LIBOR and similar benchmarks, focusing on the responsibilities of the banks and the failings of their control systems. We welcome a more systemic analysis of LIBOR rigging that does not only focus on the role of the individual traders. However, we would also like to see a more critical stance on the role of the regulators. 
 

TAKING ACTION

You can still inspect council accounts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Check your council’s website for dates for the period of public inspection of accounts if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. In England, the period ended last week.

You can inspect your council’s accounts, ask a question to the auditor or object to spending you believe is not in the public interest – read more in our guide! If you’d like to use these rights to take action on LOBO loans, check out our LOBO loan booklet and get in touch.

Share your experiences on inspecting and objecting to accounts

If you have used the inspection and objection rights in the past, we’d be interested in hearing your experience for a report we are writing on the legislation that grants these rights, the Local Audit and Accountability Act. Get in touch with fanny@researchforaction.uk if you are happy to be interviewed.

Open letter from councillors on LOBO loans

We are hosting on our website an open letter from councillors and MPs on LOBO loans. It is addressed to the Local Government Association (LGA), Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and HM Treasury (HMT) and calls for a national political solution to LOBO loans, so that councils need not spend taxpayer funds to pursue banks, brokers and advisors through the legal system.

You can ask your MP and councillors to sign the letter. You can get in touch with them by using the WriteToThem website.

 

EVENTS

Festival: A Playground for the new economy

16-18 July, Frome, Somerset

We will be at Stir to Action’s festival this week! We look forward to conversations, participatory theatre, virtual reality experiences, live podcasts, interactive workshops, idea surgeries and also to the food, beer and music. We will be running a workshop on Thursday afternoon on citizen audits and how the tool of auditing can be used to improve local democracy. 

LOBO loan workshop for Green Party councillors

20 July, Stroud

Vica will run a workshop on LOBO loans at the annual conference of the Green Party Association of Councillors. Since LOBO loans affect hundreds of councils regardless of political colour, we would love the opportunity to come and speak about them at other party events too. Please get in touch if you are a councillor or a member of a political party and could offer us a space to run a workshop at an event.


 
 

NEWS FROM OUR NETWORKS

StepChange report on subprime credit cards

The debt advice charity StepChange published a report this week on credit cards. They focused on the relationship between subprime credit cards and problem debt. Subprime cards are high interest credit cards, usually targeted at people with a low income, who are unemployed or have little access to other forms of credit. They have high interest rates of 30% or more. According to StepChange, one in three people in severe problem debt have a subprime credit card. You can download the report from their website.

Reimagining London

20 July, 2-7pm
Potter’s Field Park (On the grass by City Hall), The Queen’s Walk, London, SE1 2AA

Divest London, Fuel Poverty Action and Reclaim the Power are putting on a Saturday afternoon-long festival of ideas for a better London. It will explore how to connect the dots from a Green New Deal to growing our own sustainable food, community energy to creating a city that cares for migrants, ending with an assembly that creates a plan for London. Sounds exciting – it’s free and you can register here!

Barcelona En Comú returns to rule the city

After a narrow defeat in the local elections in May, municipalists Barcelona En Comú have returned to power in Barcelona, supported by the social democratic PSC. Former housing activist Mayor Ada Colau has already ordered the expropriation of an empty flat owned by bank BBVA and announced measures to reduce emissions when the council declares a climate emergency from the start of next year. This is what people over profit looks like!

 

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