Wednesday, 15 August 2018

'To Hell with the Bank'

My father passed away almost two years ago and this weekend, at Trevaskis Farm, we are reopening the Organic Kitchen Garden in his memory. My father was the founder of Trevaskis Farm way back in 1979 and growing fruit and vegetables was his passion. In later life he created a demonstration garden on the farm and my sister has now restored it.

In the final year of his life he also wrote a book which we have also launched this week. Today Trevakis Farm is a great success but it has not always been plain sailing. Every life has its set backs and share of problems. In the early 1990s our family farming business suffered some serious sets backs with bad weather which culminated in losses and then an acrimonious dispute with Barclays Bank who tried to withdraw their funding. My father's book "To Hell with the Bank", tells the story behind those traumatic events in 1995. 
The business had expanded to try to keep the oldest family farm within family ownership following the retirement of my Great Uncle. A series of set backs meant that things did not go entirely to plan but the risks had always been acknowledged and we just needed a bank that would give us time and space. My father put forward a radical plan to slash debts by a third and consolidate the business which the bank's agricultural advisers supported. However, other parts of the bank wanted to wind the business down. When they attempted to send in the receivers, they got more than they bargained for and there was an extraordinary legal battle that raged for a year before the business was finally free and able to grow again. 
My own experience of that traumatic event is one of the catalysts that got me interested in politics. I saw some things about our law that were not right and I saw things happen which were wrong and totally unfair. When I first became an MP I introduced a Bill to Parliament called the Secured Leding Reform Bill. It sought to rebalance the law away from lenders and in favour of enterprise and the small business people who are the backbone of our economy. Under the current law, if you have a home and you fall behind on your mortgage payments, the lender has to get a "possession order" from the court before they are able to do anything or seize and sell your property. The courts do not grant these orders lightly and will take account of any circumstances an individual might have suffered such as losing their job or having a short term financial crisis in their family. The result is home repossession is usually a final resort. However, when it comes to farm land or any other commercial property, there are no rights at all. A bank can simply walk in and take possession and then auction your property without any recourse to the courts. I think that is totally wrong. 
People who offer banks their property as security for a loan deserve some protection in law. They are trusting that lender to behave responsibly and often the property they have represents their life's work or in some cases the capital that a family might have built up through generations of work. It is completely unjust that anonymous risk management officers working far away from the business currently have the right in law to seize and sell that life's work without first requiring permission from a court. My Bill would have introduced such a right. It didn't make it through on the first attempt but this remains unfinished business. 
"To Hell with the Bank" by Paul Eustice is available to buy online through lulu.com or at Trevaskis Farm.

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