George must get on with Barings inquiry

Barings collapsed on 27 February, just one day before the end of the Bank of England's curiously structured financial year. In the Banking Act report issued yesterday, however, the event that shook the City merits only a passing paragraph. The reason for this is that the Bank's inquiry into what happened and why is not yet complete. The reasons for the delay are no doubt innocent and understandable enough but the Bank really does need to get a move on if it is to avoid further criticism over this affair.

Having at first said the report would be ready in six to eight weeks, the deadline was then moved to early June. Eddie George, the Governor, now finds time is running out again. One of the main justifications for holding a behind closed doors inquiry of this sort, as opposed to the American system of public hearings, is that it should be faster. This does not, however, appear to be a prime consideration in an inquiry that may expose failings in the Bank of England's own supervisory system.

There are also increasingly confused political signals emerging, suggesting the report may not be made public as soon as some had expected. In that wonderfully English manner, the Bank is now making much of the difference between completing the report and publishing it.

One obvious concern is that if the Bank brings out its report before the the Singaporean authorities complete theirs, which may adopt a rather different angle, it could look silly. Much political calculation is going on about how the Bank's reputation can be best protected. That, however, is not what the inquiry into Barings collapse is meant to be about.

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