AMI visits Labour

I spent this week at the Labour Party conference in Manchester.

After a number of meetings with ministers, and hearing the chancellor speak, I’ve a good sense of the priorities and worries of the government.

I met with Kitty Ussher, economic secretary to the Treasury. Ussher is well known to me and we last met only a few days ago.

But with the pace of change sweeping the markets, the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries is providing a useful scan of the current environment. Given the nature of AMI firms, we are a weathervane for how the economy is treating smaller businesses.

We discussed the economy, banking reform, regulatory reform and the state of the mortgage market.

Ussher is on top of the issues and has proved herself be an engaged and thoughtful minister.

She was very keen to hear about the intermediary market’s view of the Lloyds TSB takeover of HBOS – and also of Santander’s acquisition of Alliance & Leicester.

We discussed the competitive aspects, impacts on consumers and firms and the raw necessity of the move. I am sure that post-credit crunch the competitive aspects will be revisited.

It was then on to meet the secretary of state for business, enterprise and regulatory reform John Hutton.

Given the focus of Hutton’s portfolio, we discussed a wide range of subjects from the need for the UK to take an even more leading role in Brussels to stem the flow of unhelpful directives to how we could ensure open-markets rather than protectionism was seen as the answer to the current market travails.

We also discussed the need for better regulation, not necessarily new powers.

After Hutton, I was able to brief the chief secretary to the Treasury, Yvette Cooper.

I was keen to point out that we needed to look again at the focus of regulation as it had obviously missed the biggest risks.

We also talked about the housing market and the need for a wider ranging reform on Stamp Duty.

It was also a priority for me to advocate government intervention in the capital markets.

We have made presentations to the Treasury and Crosby team on our ideas and await the output of Sir James’ report with great expectations.

Through these meetings, I’ve been able to weave in the value of mortgage advice.

The statistics and research we now have that show people seek out and value mortgage advice even more during turbulent periods, has helped convince those who have not seen the link in the past.

Yesterday evening should have been spent in the company of the chancellor, Alistair Darling.

But he was called to other matters so the secretary of state for work and pensions James Purnell stepped into the breech.

Ussher was also present and Purnell was quick to reassure me that, despite the evening’s events, the Treasury had a grip on the pennies – in fact, Ussher had just asked him to return her pen he’d borrowed that morning!