Every capitalist is in favour of financial freedoms: it's fundamental. Every conservative is realistic about human failings. Both statements need qualifying; but they are not irreconcilable. They do, however, add up to limits at the 'freedom' end of the continuum. Bracing and salutary as it may be to give financial responsibilities to as many people "as possible", there is little point in conferring freedoms where they will inevitably be abused on a scale to be of general disbenefit.
It's a scalar matter, and there is no merit in striking purist, polar attitudes. We don't, for example, allow people to sink their pensions into the shares of the company that employs them; nor drive cars without insurance. There are all manner of constraints on banks etc.
Another very sensible restriction is that placed on local authorities before 2012, preventing them from getting into commercial ventures (beyond some very tightly limited, essentially de minimis cases). Heaven knows, I was a local councillor for a number of years and saw at first hand the limitations of a large proportion of my fellow elected representatives - and indeed those of full-time council officers, notwithstanding the genuine specialist skills many of them possessed.
Then along comes G. Osborne - complete with his student-politics talent and deeply unrealistic political attitudes - with his Localism Act, which turned LAs free to enter more or less any contract they fancied. And away they went, not least in my own home town of Croydon, bankrupt thanks to crazy commercial schemes (mostly in property, in that case). Croydon, however, is not the subject of today's story.
It's Warrington, another council I've written about before which, in 2019, bet the farm on shares in a distinctly ropey-looking small energy company, "Together Energy". (How the Together management pulled that one off, one can only speculate: but the words "due diligence" don't quickly come to mind.) Remember that by that time, Nottingham and Bristol city councils were very publicly staring disaster in the face with their own hopeless energy ventures, "Robin Hood Energy" and the less imaginative "Bristol Energy", so it was already pretty well understood that there was many a deep pitfall down that path.
But no, Warrington Council parted with £18 million of its residents' money for the shares, plus more in loans and guarantees, and then more loans and more guarantees ... and still Together went bust, just this week, when Warrington wasn't willing to allow matters to go even further - as was obviously always going to be the case eventually. To make matters even more poignant, Together Energy even bought (with hard cash) the residential customer portfolio of Bristol Energy along the way.
Now tell me, Osborne, what possible contribution to the Public Good is represented by allowing such things to happen, as they inevitably have. Does it teach other councillors a lesson? Evidently not: Bristol and Nottingham were foundering in the full glare of publicity when Warrington got started. Fact is, councillors and council officers are proven wholly unfit to be allowed to embark on commercial ventures: and that's a fairly restrained way of putting it.
The challenge of striking intelligent balance in policy-making is endless. Right now, this one is badly out of kilter.