'It would be hard to think of a more relevant speaker for the current time.'
Ernst and Young
Norman Lamont was Chancellor of the Exchequer during the last recession, presiding over the withdrawal of sterling from the Exchange Rate Mechanism and what quickly became known as Black Wednesday. He has since been described by the economist Sir Alan Walters as "not only the most effective, but also the bravest Chancellor since the war."
Originally an investment banker with NM Rothschild, Lamont spent twenty five years in the Commons, serving in the Cabinet under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. As Chancellor, he appointed the 26 year-old David Cameron as his special advisor.
In his speech Lamont charts the course of recession, looking at the likely prospects and sources of recovery over the coming years . He foresees banks returning to full independence within a relatively short time frame, and argues against any temptation for the UK to sign up to the Euro. He is also very comfortable speaking after dinner, lacing the speech with a stream of anecdotes.
Since leaving the Commons Lord Lamont has held directorships with RAB Capital, Balli and Phorm. He is Chairman of the British Romanian and British Iranian Chambers of Commerce.
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Lessons of recession
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JLA: Will the G20 make progress on trade imbalances in 2011?
NL: Attempts to bring about a mathematical balance between deficit and surplus countries are doomed to fail. There will always be surplus and deficit countries, financed by the free-flow of capital. This is a consequence of globalisation and should be welcomed rather than seen as a threat. The real threat to global recovery is protectionism, not global imbalances.
JLA: How closely is our own fate linked to the Euro?
NL: So far Britain has managed to isolate itself from the problems of the Euro, even though our public finances are as bad. What happens in the Eurozone matters profoundly; a break up, desirable as that might be in theory, would effect both trade and confidence. In the long term, the Euro will probably not remain as it is now, but this will have to be managed carefully.
JLA: Is there a serious risk of north/south divide in Europe?
NL: Yes. Not only Germany, but also countries like Sweden are powering ahead - whilst the rise in unit costs in southern Europe has made several counties uncompetitive and likely to face a prolonged period of stagnation.
JLA: What are the relative strengths of the UK economy?
NL: Traditionally the UK's strength has been in services (particularly financial) and in information technology and outsourcing. Interestingly, manufacturing has staged a strong comeback in this recession. Britain's flexible labour market remains a plus point, through not as strong as it used to be.
JLA: How well do you expect our economy to withstand the cuts?
NL: The proposed cuts are not out of the line with measures taken in the past by many countries. Similar adjustments were made in the early 80s and 90s in Britain. Of course, the international environment in Europe is not going to help, but without action our overall debt would be approaching the danger zone - so we have no option but to act.
JLA: Has any progress been made in rebalancing the UK economy?
NL: Trade imbalances are not the main problem - deleveraging in the private sector is already happening. The main rebalancing required is in the public finances.