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Blue Monday

January 19th, 2010

chairman-of-the-treasury-select-committee-john-mcfallYesterday was supposed to be the most depressing day of the year. Christmas and New Year are over. New Year resolutions have faded. The credit card bills begin to arrive and January’s salary is still a couple of weeks’ away. The hours of daylight have been short for many weeks and we lack vitamin D from the sunshine to make us feel better.

Up at Stormont, it was definitely a “Presbyterian Blue Monday”. The Treasury Select Committee came to investigate the situation with regard to the Presbyterian Mutual Society and there were Presbyterians everywhere, most of them savers with the PMS. Some came feeling blue because of the failure to find a resolution to the PMS crisis, and left, no less true-blue Presbyterians, but feeling a slightly warmer colour because of what they heard.

I was there leading the delegation from PCI. Some people thought that because we met Mr McFall in private we were engaged in some clandestine conspiracy, not wishing to publish our comments or our answers to key questions. The simple fact was that the church had not been scheduled to meet the committee, and it was only after we requested the opportunity to meet with them that we were given a slot with Mr McFall at the very beginning of the day before the rest of the Select Committee arrived. I published our memo to the committee on this blog for everyone to see.

The Treasury Select Committee asked some hard and good questions. The effect of that was to re-focus and re-energise the efforts we have made to get the situation resolved, and for that we are very thankful. Much of the discussion was taken up with the question as to how this crisis was allowed to develop, and the failures of the registration and regulation process. The Committee report will make for interesting reading.

All through this crisis, however, we have sought to stay focused on the resolution of the problem. When other financial institutions in the UK got into trouble, they were bailed out without any inquiry into the cause of their collapse and without regard to the culpability of the institution. What became clear yesterday was that no one is really taking ownership of the drive towards a resolution, and, as John McFall said, the “pass the parcel” game needs to stop and a new political will needs to be found. We hope that the visit of the committee will help create that will and purpose.

For many months now, we have been telling the Government what the solution is to this crisis, and the speed of its response has been glacial. If it doesn’t act decisively and act soon, the smaller savers will continue to suffer and will be discriminated against. An unintended consequence of Administration is that the PMS has now been “demutualised” and a distinction is now made between loans and shares, so that in any future distribution of income, the larger savers are likely to benefit at the expense of the smaller savers. This will be grossly unfair and will have a hugely divisive outcome for Presbyterian congregations. We made this point to the Government many months ago, and called on them to take immediate action to pre-empt these problems. Sadly, they have not taken us seriously nor have they acted appropriately.

The Government, and the Treasury in particular, needs to be proactive in seeking a partnership with a financial institution, so that the PMS can be absorbed into that larger financial institution. We said this is in early August last year. So again we make our plea: please make this solution work! Right now, PMS savers are the only group in the UK to have been treated differently. This is unfair and unjust. Thank you, Mr McFall and your Committee, for listening and understanding our plight. May your report not fall on deaf ears.

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