Little to choose between parties’ industry pledges

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The battle lines between the three main political parties are less than clear after the release of their election manifestos revealed little difference on housing and financial services policies.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have all pledged to impose a banking levy and wean banks off government support.

Labour says it would introduce a global bank tax while the Tories say they would act unilaterally on this if necessary.

The Lib Dems would levy a tax on lenders before splitting them up and separating retail banking from investment activities.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems want to beef up services offered by the Post Office. Labour has already signalled its intention to turn the Post Office into a People’s Bank, double its mortgage book and offer 90% LTV mortgages.

The Lib Dems want to establish a PostBank, either as a state-run bank via the Post Office or through partnerships with other providers.

Both parties want to turn Northern Rock back into a building society, and the Lib Dems have also stressed the importance of mutuals and co-operatives generally.

Other similarities include the proposed scrapping of Home Information Packs by the Tories and the Lib Dems, and the £250,000 starting threshold for Stamp Duty for first-time buyers pledged by Labour and the Tories.

But differences emerge when it comes to the subject of financial regulation.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already admitted that bank regulation was not tough enough when he was chancellor.

Speaking on ITV 1’s Tonight pro-gramme, which aired last week, Brown says: “All the complaints I was getting from people were about being regulated too much. And the truth is that both globally and nationally we should have been regulating them more.

“So I’ve learnt from that. You don’t listen to the industry when it says ’this is good for us’. You’ve got to talk about the public interest.”

Brown is now pledging to intro-duce a single regulator for con-sumer finance and clamp down on the rates charged by payday and doorstep lenders.

Meanwhile, the Tories want to get rid of the Financial Services Authority and replace it with a Consumer Protection Agency.

Nationwide Building Society says that in the run-up to the election on May 6 consumer confidence has plummeted.

Martin Gahbauer, chief econo-mist at Nationwide, says confidence also fell before the last election.

But he adds: “Consumer pessi-mism appears to be stronger this time round as the UK continues to recover from its deepest recession since the 1930s.”