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Tories call for transparency on Iceland deposits crisis

Shadow local government minister Bob Beill MP has written today to John Healey MP calling for an end to the leaking of information about councils' exposure in a "piecemeal" and "speculative manner".  The text of the letter is published in full below.

Local Councils’ Exposure to Icelandic Banks

"I know that the House was grateful to you for updating us yesterday on this situation and in particular the steps being taken in relation to the thirteen authorities described as potentially facing short-term difficulties and the three where financial experts were going in yesterday.

I understand your reasons for feeling unable to identify those authorities at the time, however in the light of events overnight, I would again urge you to reconsider this.

I am sure that you will have seen the report by Martin Hickman in today’s Independent which identifies the three authorities, as I understand it accurately, and also names two of the remaining ten.  It cannot be desirable for this information to leak into the public domain piecemeal and in a speculative manner.  I would suggest that it is in the interests of all concerned, including the councils concerned, that a definitive list is published and I hope that the Government will now insist upon this.

The report also suggests a growing total sum of exposure, as I referred to in yesterday’s debate and I believe that this makes it all the more necessary to publish a comprehensive list not only of local councils but of housing associations, regional development agencies, schools, local PFI projects and single purpose authorities such as FRAs which it is believed may be similarly exposed.

I also think that the clear sense that the House would have had from yesterday’s information was that the intervention by the financial experts, which I take it is the “rapid response unit” referred to during DCLG questions on Tuesday, was taking place with the agreement of all the authorities concerned.  I was therefore particularly surprised to see a statement issued later last night by the Leader of Tamworth Council in which he says:

“Tamworth Borough Council is not in any immediate financial difficulty and this year’s budget will remain unchanged.  There is no threat to services or wages at Tamworth Borough Council.  The only help we require is to get the investment back.
“I am shocked about hearing an emergency team is being sent to us.  We neither asked for nor need one. “

Against that background, I believe it is imperative that you urgently make clear the basis upon which the list of councils apparently “at risk” was drawn up, what criteria was used for assessing their risk and the process by which this was agreed with the LGA and/or the local authorities concerned.  What, if any, is the legal status of the intervention?  Have you or your officials had any direct contact with the councils on the list?

I also note that Tamworth and the other councils quoted in the Independent stress that their principal need is for assistance from the Government in recovering the investments.  Can you please detail what steps the Government is taking in that regard?

I do want to emphasise the Opposition seek to work constructively with the Government in resolving these issues but I believe it is imperative that we now have both comprehensive and fully transparent information.  Otherwise, a partial drip feeding of information into the public domain can only serve to raise the suspicion articulated by the Leader of Tamworth Council in his statement that “this looks like more of an attempt to shift attention onto local councils and away from Government” and I am sure you will agree that cannot be in anybody’s interests.""


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