Opinion: The promise of an Oxford vaccine and a new thriving Britain

Oxford University’s Jenner Institute announced it was teaming up with AstraZeneca to take a promising prototype of coronavirus vaccine into volume production by the autumn. AstraZeneca’s recent history also tells a cautionary tale – pointing to how our financial, ownership and banking ecosystem is fundamentally decadent. But it also points to a story of promise: if we can be as fast as we’ve been in developing a potential vaccine, in building Nightingale hospitals and in learning to live online, perhaps we can repurpose the Britishfinancial system just in time. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Britain’s capacity to manufacture a range of medical equipment – witness the ongoing debacle over PPE, ventilators, face masks and the rest. One statistic reveals its priorities: of the £1.7tn stock of British bank lending, £1.45tn is on real estate while a tiny £10bnhas been advanced to small- and medium-sized manufacturers. But as economic disaster looms, British banks could, and should, become conduits for finance to flow to our crippled business sector, and in particular manufacturing – as urgently as the Jenner Institute is trying to develop a vaccine. On top, the banks were told not to pay any dividends to help conserve capital, better tosupportthe impending scale of lending to distressed companies. British banks are trying – £1.3bn was lent last week and 25,000 applications processed – but the degree of cultural and organisational change required is dramatic. To avert a disastrous wave of closures, bankruptcies and redundancies by the summer, the weekly rate of lending has to rise to between £12bn an £15bn. With the same ruthlessly short-term shareholders owning them as those prepared to sell AstraZeneca to the highest bidder, banks know that they must deploy their capital to where profits are high and reliable – real estate lending. The British Business Bank, embarrassingly minuscule compared with its foreign counterparts, needs immediately to be given the mandate and capital to increase its own lending 10 times – acrossthe country. If there is not to be a terrifying slump, the British financial and ownership system needs a revolution – and it hasto takeplace in mere weeks.