MPC swayed most by Bank's regional agents

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The Independent Online
THE BANK of England's 12 regional agents wield more influence than anyone else when the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meets each month to assess the state of the economy and the prospects for interest rates, according to MPC member DeAnne Julius.

Official statistics are also scrutinised, but as was recently illustrated by the row over the accuracy of the earnings figures, their reliability is questionable.

At a conference in London to mark the 40th anniversary of the Confederation of British Industry's industrial trends survey - the latest of which was published yesterday - Ms Julius compared the information the MPC receives on the economy from official statistics with business surveys such as the CBI's, reports presented by the Bank's regional agents, and information given by personal contacts of MPC members.

Assessing the information the Bank receives each month, Ms Julius revealed how much weight is attached to the different sources. She said the important factors were how representative the information was, and its relevance, reliability and timeliness. The agents came out on top, receiving full marks for their contributions (See table). Official statistics from the Office For National Statistics or international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund were next most influential, despite scoring poorly on their reliability.

Ms Julius said one of the problems with official statistics was that they were frequently revised, and it was difficult to know how accurate initial readings were. On the other hand, one of the attributes of business survey results from the CBI and Chambers of Commerce was that they were never amended later.

The Bank of England has 12 regional agents, whose job it is to keep in touch with businesses in their area. Each month three of the agents make a presentation to MPC members before the interest rate decision is taken. The next meeting between the MPC and the agents is on Friday, and will be crucial in determining whether interest rates are cut next week.