Lancashire council goes into the loans business

Council buildingJohn Giles/PA Wire

It seems like an odd development for councils, given that so many are struggling to make ends meet at the moment, but Lancashire County Council has decided that the best way to kick-start local businesses is to lend them money. It has set up a partnership with a peer-to-peer lender, which it says will plough much-needed funds into local firms.

So how will it work? And will it take off elsewhere?
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Peer-to-peer


The website will rate each funding opportunity with a level of risk, so investors know what they are getting into. And they can put as little as £20 into each loan, so their risk is spread.

The council will fund the first 20% for local businesses on the site. The rest of the loan will then go on the marketplace to attract other lenders. The idea is that your loan is auctioned out. Lenders bid for the chance to invest in you, and suggest the rate of interest they want in return. When the auction closes, you lend at the lowest rates that have been bid on your loan.

The council is putting £100,000 into the initiative - which it expects to blossom into a multi-million pound lending arrangement over time.

Why not?

This isn't the first social welfare initiative on the site. At the moment there is a school looking for £88,500 of working capital - which is going to cost it 10%.

There is clearly the cash out there. This site alone lends approximately £1 million to small businesses every week, and is running at a total of almost £58 million. And this is far from the only one of these sorts of services - the biggest player in the UK is Zopa, which has lent more than £200 million.

The average investor puts in £2,720, and makes 9.1%. It's a decent return for the council, its a source of funding for the businesses, and it's an interesting option for investors.

Maybe the question shouldn't be why a council is going into the loans business like this, but why the others aren't.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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Lancashire council goes into the loans business

More than 46,000 of 106,000 the complaints received by the FOS in the second half of last year related to payment protection insurance (PPI). And the organisation is expecting to receive a record 165,000 PPI complaints in 2012/2013.

The huge numbers are due to the PPI mis-selling scandal that should now be a thing of the past, but there is no doubt that the insurance, which can add thousands to the cost of a loan, is highly unpopular!

(Pictured: Martin Lewis after the PPI payout ruling)

Complaints about mortgages jumped by 38% in the last six months of last year, the FOS figures show, compared to an increase of just 5% in investment-related complaints.

Common gripes about mortgages include the exit penalties imposed should you want to sell up or change you mortgage before a fixed or discounted deal comes to an end, and the high arrangement fees charged by many lenders.

While there is nothing in the data released by the FOS about the number of complaints relating to savings accounts, hard-pressed savers have been struggling with low interest rates for several years now.

You can get up to 3.10% with Santander's easy-access eSaver account, but many older accounts are paying 1.00% or less and even this market-leading offer includes a 12-month bonus of 2.60% - meaning that the rate will plummet to just 0.50% after the first year.

Banks are imposing the highest authorised overdraft interest rates since records began, with today's borrowers paying an average of 19.47%, according to the Bank of England.

A typical Briton with an overdraft of £1,000 is therefore forking out around £200 in interest charges alone. Coupled with meagre returns on savings, it's enough to make your blood boil!

While authorised overdrafts may seem expensive, going into the red without permission will cost you even more due to huge penalty fees.

Barclays, for example, charges £8 (up to a maximum of £40 a day) each time that there is not enough money in your account to cover a payment.

If you need to send money abroad, the likelihood is that your bank will impose transfer charges - and offer you a poor rate of exchange. Someone transferring a five-figure sum could easily lose out by £500 or more as a result.

The good news, however, is that you can often get a better deal by using a currency specialist such as Moneycorp.

Automated telephone banking systems, not to mention call centres in far-flung parts of the world, are one of our top gripes - especially as we often encounter them when we are already calling to report a problem.

In the words of one disgruntled customer: "What is it about telephone banking that turns me into Victor Meldrew? Well, maybe it's the fourteen security questions, maybe it's the range of products that they try to push or maybe it's because I'm forced to listen to jazz funk at full volume while my phone bill soars.

"Actually though, I think it's because the people I eventually speak to rarely seem able to solve the issue I'm calling about."

The days of a personal relationship with your bank manager are long gone - for the huge majority of us at least.

When ethical Triodos Bank investigated recently why around 9 million Britons would not recommend their banks to a friend or relative, it found that almost a third felt they were not treated as individuals. Another 40%, meanwhile, were simply disappointed with the customer service they received.

When you're in a rush, the last thing you want to do is wait in a long queue at your local branch.

Researchers at consumer champion Which? recently found that most people get seen within 12 minutes, but you could have a much longer wait if you go in at a busy time. Frustrating stuff!

The Triodos Bank research also indicated that the bonus culture that ensured the bank's high-flying employees received large salaries, even when it was making a loss at the taxpayer's expense, was hugely unpopular with consumers.

About a quarter of those who would not recommend their current banks said this was the main reason why. And with RBS executives sharing a £785 million bonus pool despite the bank, which is 82% publicly owned, making a loss of £2 billion last year, it's not hard to see why.

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