Bank of England (Economic Affairs Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 2:02 pm ar 2 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of The Earl of Effingham The Earl of Effingham Ceidwadwyr 2:02, 2 Mai 2024

My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Bridges of Headley for securing this important debate. I would also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Moynihan of Chelsea on his excellent maiden speech. I have already enjoyed several discussions with him, and I am very much looking forward to all his future contributions. I should also highlight my entry in the register of interests.

I count myself extremely lucky to have worked in financial markets for 25 years, during which time I have had the privilege of working with some of the brightest individuals in the country, including a former employee of the Bank of England. It was essential in my role to understand and be able to explain currency forecasting in both the short, medium and long term. As anyone who has been involved in currency forecasting, or indeed any other type of economic modelling will know, it is notoriously difficult. Alan Greenspan, when he was chairman of the Federal Reserve in the 1990s, set his researchers the task of examining foreign exchange rates and, having number-crunched 30 years’ worth of data, they concluded that it was impossible to predict. It was therefore of interest to me that the committee report suggested that a lack of intellectual diversity at the Bank contributed to a misdiagnosis of recent inflationary pressures, as well as inadequate forecasting and modelling techniques. I agree with the report wholeheartedly: it is incredibly important to have a diverse range of personalities, backgrounds and experiences of both women and men that runs true in any business and board of directors.

However, as I hope I have demonstrated briefly to your Lordships, economic forecasting is challenging at the best of times. Even if you did have a different membership make-up, which is a key recommendation of the report and should happen regardless, the likelihood of forecasting outsized shocks to the system may increase only marginally.

It is a fact that many central banks other than the Bank of England did not see inflation coming as aggressively as it did. That is confirmed by Ben Bernanke’s review, published last month, when he said:

“A comparison of forecasting performance shows that virtually all forecasters—both in central banks and outside—failed to anticipate in a timely way the dramatic economic consequences of the post-2019 shocks”.

Therefore, on the basis that it is extremely difficult to forecast economic outcomes correctly, it would be highly beneficial if the Bank could provide the public with regular and alternative scenario analyses, aside from its main forecast, potentially as well as a dot plot. Primarily, it would demonstrate that the Bank is aware of and preparing for a variety of different shocks and, as a result, is sparking diversity of thought within the organisation and addressing preventive measures. Additionally, given that financial markets hate uncertainty, it provides those participants with the necessary information to apply a more balanced approach to their own potential future exposure models in different asset classes. Lastly, it encourages a more regular two-way dialogue and relationship between the Bank and its external stakeholders, which is critical. It is essential to build that relationship, communicate openly and challenge constructively where appropriate.

I will also briefly highlight stress testing within forecasting. Last Wednesday, the headline on the front page of the Financial Times read:

“Lenders are in the dark over private equity risk, Bank of England warns”.

The article continued:

“Exposure stress tests lacking … BoE regulator … said yesterday that lenders should routinely stress test their exposure but ‘hardly any banks do it well’”,

referring to private equity exposure. It is of course entirely correct to say that firms should routinely stress-test their exposure; it is best market practice. But it is also essential because so-called black swan events are no longer a rare occurrence. Since the global financial crisis, we have seen the ensuing Eurozone crisis, the unpegging of the Swiss franc, Brexit, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the September 2022 fiscal event and heightened geopolitical risk in the Middle East. Financial risk is omnipresent.

However, the Economic Affairs Committee report referred to Dr Bernanke, who found that:

“Some key software used in preparing the forecasts is out of date and lacks important functionality” because

“insufficient resources have been devoted to ensuring that the software and models underlying the forecast are adequately maintained”.

If we follow the Bank’s premise that everyone must stress test well, which we should, it is vital that the Bank itself allocates sufficient resource and headcount to guarantee that it is employing up-to-date software and models.

Finally, the Bank plays a crucial role for every person in this country. That is an extremely powerful office of authority. It is right that it should be independent to ensure financial stability and confidence in the UK economy, which has multiple ancillary benefits to the population. However, as the report notes, that power is concentrated among a small group of individuals. I suggest that the Bank is as powerful as and has more responsibility than any of the largest listed companies in the UK, but they are answerable to shareholders. In this case, the shareholders of the Bank are the people of the UK who are, in turn, represented by elected government officials. While we must retain the independence of the Bank in setting monetary policy, we must also ensure that it is accountable to its shareholders.

I therefore ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Government will encourage the Bank, as a matter of urgency, to replace its out-of-date software and functionality for forecasting and stress testing. Will they ensure that the Bank allocates resource internally to provide the public with both more regular and supplementary forecasting scenario analyses? Lastly, will they encourage the Bank to complete, within an agreed fair and reasonable timeframe, the recommendations that came out of Dr Bernanke’s review?