Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Comment: Lending will force Bank to find new ideas

Earlier indications that the Bank of England’s Funding for Lending scheme (FLS) was easing the loans log-jam appear to have been overstated.

Lending from some of the main banks fell in the final three months of last year, heightening the possibibility of some new ideas emerging at this week’s monthly meeting of the monetary policy committee (MPC).

The FLS, launched in August, made £80 billion available to the main lenders and the Bank will be disappointed that an initial £1bn surge in loans has not carried through to the end of the year.

It has helped reduce the cost of mortgages to home buyers. But small firms, who were expected to benefit, have not done so and there is some evidence that it is merely cutting borrowing costs to those who would have received a loan anyway.

The banks claim demand is not there and that they are also under pressure to conserve cash to bolster their balance sheets. It is also important to consider the timescales involved. Taken over six months, Royal Bank of Scotland says its core bank has increased net lending by £1bn.

But there are suggestions that some firms have given up on traditional sources of lending because of a failure to get what they need or because the costs of borrowing have become prohibitive.

The Bank of England will now be giving thought to extending the range of policy tools at its disposal, as mentioned in the minutes of the last meeting of the MPC when there were strong hints that the FLS was not doing its job, despite the committee saying it was performing in line with expectations.

Sir Mervyn King, the Bank’s governor, joined fellow committee members Paul Fisher and David Miles in calling for a £25bn extension to the quantitative easing programme and it would be no surprise to see a majority of the nine members vote in favour when they reveal their decision on Thursday.

Some fear that further asset purchases will fuel inflation, but the Bank has already conceded that inflation will rise to around 3 per cent and that it is worth tolerating higher prices and a fall in sterling in order to stimulate export activity.

It will be four years tomorrow since the base rate of interest was cut to 0.5 per cent and a further cut is not out of the question.

There has even been talk of negative interest rates whereby the banks pay a fee on the money they are not lending, though this would devastate the savings sector. A more likely option is for the Bank to vary the range of assets it buys.

As for the government’s response, Chancellor George Osborne must be wondering what more can be done following the failure of Project Merlin and the short-lived credit easing plan. Yesterday’s data may prompt more head-scratching ahead of his 20 March Budget.

Short-termism needs a long-term solution

short-termism has been a long-term problem and it is no surprise that a poll of members of the Institute of Directors finds more than 90 per cent believe it to be an impediment to growth.

But firms have also become more short-termist since the financial crisis, suggesting that the problem is getting worse.

Quarterly reporting should be scrapped and measures introduced to encourage investors to stay in businesses for longer.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Conservation charities to work together

Two Hampshire charities are to combine forces to share benefits for their members and help each other to raise their profile.

Chawton House Library, near Alton in East Hampshire and the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Hants branch, based at Martyr Worthy near Winchester, have teamed up with a written partnership agreement to give mutual support.

In the summer, a group of CPRE Hampshire members visited the Chawton House Library and the visit was so successful, the charities decided to formalise a way of working together.

The library is now listed in CPRE’s national member benefits booklet “Houses and Gardens to Visit”, with a 2-for-1 offer to all CPRE members.

The restoration of Dyer’s Barn on the Chawton site was entered into CPRE Hampshire’s recent Countryside Awards and was commended as a finalist, though the community category was won by Buriton Chalk Pits, near Petersfield.

Chawton House Library’s Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Lawrence, said: “Our members take a great deal of pleasure in written heritage, social and natural history, both at Chawton and around the county. We are sure that they will enjoy the benefits that come from our cooperation with CPRE Hampshire as we have mutual aims to conserve these treasures for the future.”

CPRE Hampshire’s mission is to ‘Stand up for the countryside’ and it works for a beautiful, diverse and living countryside that everyone can value and enjoy. It campaigns on behalf of local communities, supporting rural business and promoting local food initiatives. www.cprehampshire.org.uk

Chawton House Library is a registered charity based within the South Downs National Park in Hampshire, UK. Concentrating on education and heritage, the charity holds a unique collection of early women’s writing circa 1600-1830. www.chawtonhouse.org

Thursday, October 27, 2011

£300k grant for wildlife research

A CONSERVATION project to protect wildlife habitats has been awarded a grant of more than £300,000.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has given the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which is based in Stanhope, £316,300 for WildWatch North Pennines.

The three-year project allows a network of volunteer wildlife groups to record and conserve areas of biodiversity within the area.

The North Pennines AONB landscape is made up of heather moors, dales, haymeadows and upland rivers and is home to a wealth of wildlife.

However, information about many habitats and species is sparse, making conservation difficult.

Over the course of the project, up to five volunteer groups and 150 people will be trained to survey and record the surrounding area.

An online portal will be created for volunteers to record their data and share it with communities and conservation organisations. This data will help inform ongoing conservation efforts and help the long-term survival and protection of the area and its wild inhabitants.

Activities for volunteers and trainees will include learning how to identify grassland fungi, analysing bat sound recordings and running moth traps.

The public will be asked to report sightings of more obvious animals such as adders and hedgehogs.

Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund NorthEast, said: "This stunning landscape gives so much to so many people, be that beautiful views or a chance to get up close with some of the North of England's most precious wildlife.

"This project will ensure that as many people as possible get the opportunity to get involved with this special area and help protect it for future generations.

"The Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to be involved with this project and know it will be a great success."

Chris Woodley-Stewart, director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, said: "There really is something for everyone in this project, from those with little or no experience of wildlife spotting to those who are accomplished recorders.

"The spirit of the project is about everyone sharing their experience and knowledge and learning from each other as we go.

"Those who want to get really involved will be able to join or form a local group, get training from expert practitioners, and take part in organised surveys or practical conservation work to help the North Pennines."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The constant fight to save our heritage

Martin Hesp talks to Baroness Andrews about the challenges facing English Heritage

As the leading guardian of the nation’s past, Baroness Andrews is deadly serious when she calls for people in the West Country to become more vigilant in helping to preserve the region’s rich history.

And the chairman of English Heritage warns new planning laws will mean it is even more vital individuals keep an eye on their area in a bid to preserve the common birthrights and legacies that give a place distinction.

“One of the major things people know about this country is its history – and they are fascinated by it,” she says.

“They come to see what we’ve made of it and how it stands up. And it is a source of enormous wealth to us.”

Asked if there could be moves against spending money on the past during a period of current and perhaps future economic restraint, Baroness Andrews argued: “Someone might say ‘why don’t you just knock down that old building?’ But that old building is extremely precious to a lot of people.

“And it is not just nostalgia – it’s actually about what makes places look different, feel different – be a pleasure to live in and take pride in.

“If the tourists come to see our conservation areas for what they represent, so much the better. But English Heritage is not just about buildings – we are about places, and what makes this country such a brilliant place to live in.

“It means keeping an eye on the planning department and the sort of development proposals coming forward – especially now, when the planning system is changing a lot and the intention is to give local people more power.

“But we don’t want the neurosis and the Nimbys – we want people to take a pride in their communities. Make sure what you‘ve got is well known. It’s partly about marketing.”

Baroness Andrews was on a four-day tour of the region and her diary was filled with numerous briefings with local councillors as well as visits to English Heritage sites including places of worship and other sites of interest.

As well as monitoring the condition of all the region’s listed buildings, the organisation also manages sites such as Stonehenge and Old Sarum in Wiltshire, Muchelney Abbey and Nunney Castle in Somerset, several Roman sites in Gloucestershire and medieval castles in Dorset.

The Baroness’ visit was a timely one for several reasons, one being that, by English Heritage’s own reckoning, no fewer than one in seven of the nation’s officially designated conservation areas are deemed to be “at risk”.

Another was the launch of a major new initiative called the National Heritage Protection Plan (NHPP).

This sets out how English Heritage, with help from various partner organisations, will prioritise and deliver heritage protection for the next four years (2011-2015).

Its aim is to make best use of the organisation’s resources so that England’s vulnerable historic environment is “safeguarded in the most cost-effective way at a time of massive social, environmental, economic and technological change”.

The all-embracing programme is divided into eight themes sub-divided into a series of more than 400 projects which address specific areas of work – for example, places of worship, historic ports, strategic designation.

“The plan has only been developed in the past couple of years and is just being put into practice,” Baroness Andrews says.

“It was precisely to bring aid to where there’s been huge pressure to conserve, often driven by local interests and yet with limited resources, both from our part and from the community itself. The NHPP will give us, across every form of landscape, a list of what is most important and it will also match that with a capacity to do something.

“So we have a notion of urgency and now we have a notion of how we can respond and also a notion of what other partners we’ve got in the field.

“You may ask why we’ve never done this before but, in fact, the whole evolution of heritage protection has been just that, an evolutionary system.

“We’ve listed things as they’ve come to us – or we’ve decided we should list that building, or this particular type of building. Now it’s all much more strategic.”

I put it to the baroness that talk of national strategies and might sound grand and impressive – but what did it all actually mean to people on the ground.

“When you are talking about areas at risk you are usually talking about buildings,” she said.

“English Heritage puts a lot of resource into saving heritage at risk – our work has taken a lot of buildings and places out of the risk in recent years. But we are in a situation where there are fewer resources and we are going to have to be even more watchful. It’s a constant battle.”

I also put it to the Baroness that sometimes organisations like hers were guilty of over-interpreting the past and their massive information boards, and so on, could become intrusive in more natural environments.

One example of this which has sparked raised eyebrows is the National Trust’s ‘talking benches’, launched earlier this month.

One of them carried the voice of Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox, from Bolton in Lancashire, telling visitors of the delights of Stourhead in Wiltshire.

“It’s a very fine line between giving people enough information to make sense of what they can see, and overdoing it. But I take the point. You can just alert people,” she said.

“You can use different technologies. You can have discreet information rather than large boards.

“For example – at Stonehenge we had a major problem over how to interpret it.

“And I take your point that sometimes you can do more harm than good by forcing people into a mass of detail which can be too much.

“What people want is an experience – because a lot of time nowadays people are getting things off a screen – getting information that is second-hand, fifteenth-hand.

“What we’ve got to do is treat our visitors in a very special way if we want to take them along this quite complex piece of history. It must be an experience.”

We finished by talking specifically about the West, one of the richest in all of English Heritage regions when it comes to number of sites and breadth of history.

“I certainly have got to know the area since I’ve become chair because we’ve got such wonderful properties here and some very significant ones.

“I’m beginning to know the challenges of the South West and the role we play in the prospects of the region and I am aware how much we contribute to its wealth at the moment.

“It is a rich area and that is partly why so many people come here. Heritage adds this extraordinary dimension but it is part of what makes a place worth going to. And the point about this country is that it does have the most spectacular heritage. We underestimate it at our peril.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Earth Hour fans 'disappointed' to see so many lights

Buildings and homes across the country went dark Saturday night as Canadians took part in the fifth annual Earth Hour.

But early results suggested fewer people turned off the lights this year.

In Toronto, energy use fell by 115 megawatts between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., a drop of about 5 per cent, said Jennifer Link, a spokeswoman for Toronto Hydro.

Last year, the city's Earth Hour efforts saved 296 megawatts; in 2009, it was 454 megawatts.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia Power reported saving 10 megawatts of power, a significant drop from last year's 18 megawatts.

Utilities in other provinces said it could take them until Monday to calculate the results.

Some experts say Earth Hour is losing steam now that the novelty has worn off.

But Steven Price of the World Wildlife Fund, which runs Earth Hour, said the goal isn't to boost energy savings during the event.

"What we want is the participation, because it's an awareness campaign that allows people to take some action" to fight climate change, he said after Saturday's Earth Hour.

A record number of countries and municipalities signed up for this year's event, he said.

Over the next few days, the organization will conduct surveys to determine how many people participated, Price said. He expects there to be about one-billion people worldwide.

In Toronto, hundreds watched as the billboards in Dundas Square suddenly shut down.

Still, some in the crowd said they were disappointed to see so many stores stay brightly lit.

"There's still too many lights on," said Brandon Marton, pointing to the store signs and street lights illuminating the area. "You really don't get the full effect."

Others were dismayed to find no public celebrations, like there had been in previous years.

"It's unfortunate, because it seems to draw people," said Dave Makarchuk of Guelph, Ont., who expected some kind of outdoor show to mark the occasion.

"I know it drew us here," he added.

Earth Hour began in Australia in 2007 and has since spread to more than 130 countries.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Salmon catch and release guide offers advice to boost survival

WILD fisheries groups, including the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB), the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS) and the Salmon and Trout Association (S&TA), have launched a campaign aimed at maximising the survival rate for salmon released back into the water by anglers.

"Catch and release", which has been promoted widely since the 1990s to help conserve stocks, now accounts for two thirds of all salmon caught by anglers in Scotland and for the more fragile spring stock component, over 80%.

Brian Davidson, Operations Director for ASFB and RAFTS, said: "Numerous studies including radio-tracking have shown that salmon released by anglers after capture have high survival rates with successful spawning. Releasing the salmon they catch is probably the greatest contribution that anglers can make to the conservation of this iconic species. The critical factor determining the survival rate, which in some conditions can be close to 100%, is the way that fish are handled, particularly in minimising the time, if any, that fish are out of the water".

Paul Knight, CEO of the S&TA, added: "The evidence is clear that when the correct advice is followed, the overwhelming majority of fish released make a full recovery. The leaflet now being distributed 'Catch and Release: An Angler's Guide' gives explicit advice on best practice. 'Catch and release' is often characterised as 'throwing' fish back. This unfortunate term could hardly be further from the reality as careful handling, without if possible removing the fish from the water, is crucial.”

The leaflet, which is now being distributed extensively through angling organisations and fishing beats across Scotland, offers simple and clear guidance for anglers who intend to release fish. The Catch and Release guidance campaign has been prompted by evidence of some poor handling techniques including images on the internet and in magazines of fish being held up by the tail or by the gills. The leaflet has also been supported by the Environment Agency in England and the fishing tackle companies Hardy of Alnwick and Greys of Alnwick.