Can Bank of England prevent next crash?
- 13 June 2011
- From the section Business
The creation of the Financial Policy Committee, which has its first meeting on Thursday, represents arguably the most important change to the way the British economy is managed since the Bank of England was given control of interest rates in 1997.
It will be chaired by the Governor of the Bank of England, soon-to-be-knighted Mervyn King, and its members will include his deputies, other Bank of England executives, regulators and some external experts.
What is its task? To spot where banks and other financial institutions are collectively taking excessive risks - and nip such recklessness in the bud before it causes a devastating crash of the sort we saw in 2007-8.
By the end of 2012, the Financial Policy Committee expects to be endowed by Parliament with sweeping powers, to force banks to slow down the pace of lending, if such lending were seen to be leading to a bubble in the housing market, for example.
So, as the deputy governor of the Bank of England, Paul Tucker, told me today, one of the Financial Policy Committee's tasks will be to periodically make itself unpopular, by making it harder for any of us to obtain a mortgage.
But given that the Bank of England failed to stop the last financial crisis, can we be confident it will get it right next time? This is what Tucker said:
"We can do a lot better job than in the past. There were warnings, from this institution, some from the FSA, many from abroad. And yet no one picked up the warnings and ran with them. The government and Parliament are now saying 'Financial Policy Committee, don't let this happen again'.
"Can we promise it'll never happen again over 100 years, 150 years? No it would be silly for me to say that. But can we do a much better job than happened in this country over the last 15 or 20 years? Yes we can".
We've all got to hope he's right, because the crash of three years ago did more damage to the British economy than any single event since the early 1930s and UK GDP is still below where it was in early 2008.
Which is not to say that there aren't some serious questions to be asked about the institutional structure chosen by the government for closing this particular stable door.
Here are just some of them:
1) Does it make sense to have a Financial Policy Committee, which can determine the supply of credit, separate from the existing Monetary Policy Committee, which sets the price of credit?
2) Are there too many executives on the FPC, and not enough independent outsiders?
3) Should unelected officials determine something as important to all of us as the availability of loans?
Finally, does Parliament have sufficient resources and power to hold the enlarged and strengthened Bank of England properly to account?
Some regard it as slightly odd that the Bank of England's punishment for not preventing the greatest shock in several generations to the stability of the British economy is to be given even more responsibilities.
Given the recent history, it seems important that MPs should have the means to intervene at the merest whiff that the Bank has not adequately learned the lessons.