It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Owen, in what is an important debate. Since it was announced last week, a number of hon. Members have spoken to me about the issue, and I am far from alone in having received e-mails, correspondence and surgery visits from people who have been affected by the collapse of the Arch Cru investment fund. I am pleased that the Minister is present to respond to the debate. I know from previous debates that he has a reputation for seeking to answer questions as fully as possible, and I hope that he will continue to do so today. In recognition of his reputation in that regard, and given the high number of Members present who wish to speak or intervene, I will keep my remarks as brief as I can to give the Minister the maximum time possible to respond. I also wish to recognise the efforts made by Alun Cairns who is present for the debate. He has been trying valiantly for some time to secure a parliamentary debate on Arch Cru, but it was my fortune that my name happened to be picked. I know that he will contribute to the debate in due course.
Many hon. Members are familiar with aspects of the background that led to the collapse of Arch Cru, but some salient points bear repetition. Arch Cru was established in 2006 to provide low-risk, cautiously managed funds that were sold through independent financial advisers and, like all investment funds in the UK, were regulated by the Financial Services Authority. The authorised corporate director was Capita Financial Managers Ltd, part of the listed Capita group. The two depositories of the funds were Bank of New York Mellon and HSBC. Having spoken to a number of investors and financial advisers over recent weeks, I am in no doubt that the association of those names with the fund lent credibility and provided a degree of comfort for many investors. Approximately 20,000 people invested in Arch Cru, many of whom were small investors who invested retirement savings or lump sum pension payments into the fund, following advice from financial advisers. Those to whom I have spoken invested on the basis that since it involved their retirement pots, funds needed to be cautiously invested. That was the attraction and the reason for their investment.
The fund was suspended in March 2009 by the FSA following a warning that it was insolvent. At that time it was worth a total of £363.6 million but since then—unsurprisingly—the value has fallen and at the most recent evaluation in March 2011, the fund was valued at £148.8 million. Estimates vary but between 4,000 and 10,000 people suffered losses following the collapse of that fund. Many of those people never expected to be in such a position because they were attracted to the low-risk, cautiously managed fund in which they invested. This is not a tale of a get-rich-quick scheme gone wrong, or of a high-risk, high-return investment vehicle. It is a story of thousands of people who were advised to invest savings for their retirement precisely because the fund was categorised as cautiously managed. As we now know, the reality was somewhat different. Far from being cautiously managed, funds were invested via Guernsey cells in what some would argue was a high-risk and cavalier manner. Investments included property in Dubai, Greek shipping and ferries.
My constituents—and, I am sure, those of other Members—have questions that fall within four key areas. First is the role of Capita Financial Managers which, as I have stated, was the authorised corporate director with responsibility for providing assurance that the fund was operating correctly. It sold its services as a hosting solution. I have some of its marketing material with me that states:
“For investment managers looking to manage current assets with authorised fund structures there exists an alternative to establishing your own unit, trust manager or authorised corporate director…Capita offers a ‘hosting’ solution which enables investment managers to focus on investment activities. In this arrangement Capita Financial group becomes the authorised entity by the Financial Services Authority and thereby undertakes the management company function on your behalf, delivering comprehensive administrative and investment servicing and support to your funds.”
That is how Capita sold its services. It is an outsourcing group.