When David Cameron visited Northern Ireland during the election campaign, he addressed the issue of the beleagured Presbyterian Mutual Society, and the distress that has been experienced by so many savers. In clear and unambiguous language, he made a pledge to the PMS savers:
“This is all about a simple value, building a society where we reward those who do the right thing. Last year we saw the Prime Minister betraying those who had done the right thing, when he boasted that “not one British saver has lost a single penny” in the banking crisis. He should try telling that to investors in the PMS who worked hard, saved hard – and then saw their money disappear. Are they not British, did they not lose money, why has he forgotten about them? So I give you this pledge. “If I am Prime Minister, a Conservative and Unionist Government will work with the Executive here to ensure a just and fair resolution of the PMS. It’s about saying we’re all in this together, you’ve done the right thing, and you deserve for that to be recognized and rewarded.”
When I met with the Secretary of State following the election, and just before the opening night of our General Assembly, Mr Paterson invited me to quote the Prime Minister’s commitment to the General Assembly and to assure the Presbyterian community that the new Government remained stedfast in its determination to deliver on this pledge.
This pledge not only sets out the goal – a just and fair settlement – but also the benchmark for measuring its achievement – that PMS savers, like other British savers, should not lose one penny.
I was impressed by the Secretary of State’s straightforward approach when I met him, and I fully expect the Government to deliver on its pledge. Any solution which would leave all savers without early access to 100% of their savings would fail the litmus test of justice. It would perpetuate the cruel anxiety and uncertainty with which savers, many of them elderly, have lived for the past 21 months.
The failure of the PMS was a local manifestation of a national and global phenomenon. It occurred during the awful autumn and winter of 2008-09 and it was, in part, caused by the actions the Government took to respond to other financial failures. PMS savers are not seeking exceptional treatment, but simply the removal of the discriminatory treatment which has rescued all other British savers but which has left them bereft of their savings.
Precisely how all savers will be given access to their savings is a matter for the Government. We wish the members of the Ministerial Working Group well as, over the rest of the summer, they and their officials address the various options available to them.
It seems that all the issues surrounding the PMS collapse have been exhaustively analysed. What is now needed is a solution. Mr Cameron’s pledge has cleared the way for that to happen at long last.