Anneliese Dodds MEP

The South East's Voice in Europe

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Getting the right money to the right businesses at the right time

Right now - across the South East, across the UK, and across Europe as a whole - thousands of business owners will be asking themselves the same questions.  

Whether they are just getting started, or are well-established and looking to expand, they want to know: how can I get hold of the money I need?  Do I go to my local bank for a loan?  Do I try and find one wealthy investor prepared to back me?  Do I think about entering the stock market and issuing shares?  Do I try something new, like crowdfunding?  And how do I know that I've considered all of the options before I pick the one that is best for me?

At the same time, the people with the money - the banks, the investment managers, the pension funds and anyone with savings - are asking themselves a similar set of questions.  Where is it best to invest my money?  Should I invest in something risky but with a high pay-off if I get it right?  Should I opt for something longer-term and safer?  Do I want to go with a well-established business looking to grow, or take a chance on that exciting start-up and hope it becomes the new Facebook?  And how do I know I'm definitely making the best choice?

Last week, the EU published a set of proposals that aimed to tackle this key challenge: making sure the people who have money to invest are able to give it to the businesses that need it in the most efficient way, so those businesses can grow, hire new staff and help boost the whole economy. It sounds like a simple enough aim, but it's proved to be very difficult over the years.

So how do the new EU proposals - the 'Capital Markets Union Action Plan' - intend to meet this challenge?

Firstly, as with anything complicated and intractable, the European Commission rightly acknowledges that there will be no 'silver bullet'.  We will not be able to wave a magic wand and suddenly make sure that every business in Europe has the money it needs to grow and take on new workers.  So the Action Plan contains a list of different actions which, taken together and done well, really could make a major difference to the way we do business in the UK and across Europe.

There are some good proposals in there.  The Commission wants to make it easier for investors to spend money on infrastructure - on housing, roads and railways - which is something the Labour party has been championing for years.  They want to find a single, simple way for businesses to provide information about themselves so that it is as easy as possible for investors to spot the opportunity that is right for them.  They want to simplify the process for issuing shares, so that fewer companies have to take on more debt through bank loans.  And they want to break down national barriers - so that if a Polish venture capitalist wants to invest in a Portuguese start-up, there is nothing to stop her.

This is all positive stuff, and should be welcomed.  But inevitably there are also some areas where the European Commission should be cautious.  Not every small business is going to want to use newfangled ways of getting the money they need.  For many, a bank loan will still be the best thing for them - and they shouldn't have to jump through any extra hoops to get funding.

Added to that, one of the Commission's key proposals is to make it easier for banks to package up loans that they have already made, and sell them on as "securities" to new investors.  There is an upside to this - it frees up the banks to make new loans to new businesses.  But there is a major downside too - it was precisely this kind of packaging up of old loans, applied to dodgy American mortgages, which led to the financial crisis in the first place.  The Commission should tread very carefully here.

Most of all, the European Commission should be wary of those people who will use this new Action Plan as an opportunity to argue in favour of deregulation.  There are those who will want a return to what they see as the glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s, when light-touch rules allowed big investment banks and hedge funds to do pretty much whatever they wanted.  We've seen what happens in those circumstances.  We are not going back there.

I think there is huge potential in what the Commission put forward last week.  Within the European Parliament, I will be supporting the Commission in its admirable aim of getting more money to more businesses.  But I will be a critical friend.  For me, every proposal in the Action Plan needs to meet three tests: it must promote growth and jobs; it must preserve financial stability; and it must protect consumers.  Get any one of those wrong, and the Plan will fail before it has even started.  Get all three right, and the effect could be transformational.


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