Sunday, 3 January 2010

Icy Reception

Iceland has agreed to pay a sum equivalent to 40% of its GDP as compensation for the money lost by Dutch and British savers in the collapse of online bank Icesave.

Icelandic voters are up in arms, seeing this as taxpayers coughing up for the mistakes of businessmen, to the tune of almost €12,000 per person in a country of only 320,000 people. In terms of lost opportunity, the interest on the payments alone would run the cost of their entire health system for six months.

Icesave attracted savers and Local Authorities alike through its marginally higher interest rates but when it collapsed it was not covered by the FSA compensation schemes - something that savers had ignored in order to get at the extra savings interest. One could argue convincingly that the apparent lack of care by the FSA and the savers allowed this to happen while taxpayers in Iceland can rightly say that they should not be liable for compensation for the mistakes of a small group of greedy businessmen who happily risked the deposits on crazy products as a result.

In Britain, even before the banking collapse, saver deposits were protected to a certain extent and the Government moved in quickly to support all deposits, following Ireland's lead. The FSA has always had such a scheme - but why should it support the deposits of foreign savers? And should Iceland have a similar scheme?

Perhaps more importantly was the question of why several local authorities, including my own, were depositing funds in such saving schemes when they knew they were not protected by the FSA? It seems that not a single person in Local Authorities lost their jobs for not checking this and many such staff in charge of the management of funds do not even have formal accountancy qualification. Yet, such mistakes have to be funded by private citizens who pay tax in Iceland.

The Icelanders are not taking it lying down. A large petition has been put together and around 56,000 or 23% of Iceland's voters have signed it to try and prevent the payouts. If only the British voters could have been bothered to do the same perhaps we would have saved paying out such massive blank cheques to save the careers and fuel the wealth of a tiny percentage of this nation's citizens or at least made sure there were enough caveats to make them all culpable should it ever happen again.

But that's the stoic Brits for you. £1.3 trillion bail out to save rich bankers? Why not.

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