When I was in my twenties, I worked on a film being shot on location in the London borough of Newham. The film itself, which starred Jude Law and Sadie Frost, was forgettable, but one memory that stayed with me was the all-pervading smell of refined sugar from the nearby Tate & Lyle factory by the river Thames.
That factory may still be there but today a different smell is wafting out of Newham – the whiff of opaque finance and lender’s option borrower’s option (LOBO) debt. Figures compiled by the UK Treasury show that Newham is the largest LOBO borrower in the country, with £700 million of the loans measured by fair value according to the council’s latest accounts.
There the trail runs cold. When faced with a freedom of information request in December 2013, Newham would only list the names of the lenders and the dates the loans were taken out. Any further disclosure, the council said, “could affect the Authority’s ability to negotiate favourable rates with Banks in the future”, trumping the public interest1)the FOI rejection is being contested by Joel Benjamin and Ranjan Kumaran of Moveyourmoney, and is expected to go to an Information Commissioner hearing. This puts the council in stark contrast to other local authorities, which have complied with similar FOI requests and revealed details of their loan portfolios.
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|1.||↑||the FOI rejection is being contested by Joel Benjamin and Ranjan Kumaran of Moveyourmoney, and is expected to go to an Information Commissioner hearing|