Bank rate committee 'not fit for purpose'

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The Independent Online

A former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee called today for the body, which sets interest rates, to be disbanded.

Professor David Blanchflower said the MPC was "not fit for purpose" and had made the recession deeper because of its failure to act.



And he warned that the MPC may make the recovery from recession more painful by "tightening" monetary policy - increasing rates - too early.



Prof Blanchflower also argued against calls from Bank of England Governor Mervyn King for the Government to start reducing its record deficit, warning that the greatest danger for the UK economy would be "to cut too soon".



The MPC was established in 1997 by then Chancellor Gordon Brown, and meets every month to set the base interest rate, with the target of keeping inflation within one percentage point of 2%. Since the start of the recession it has held rates at a historic low of 0.5% in a bid to stimulate the economy.



Since March last year, it has also followed a policy of "quantitative easing" - effectively printing money - to inject capital into the economy and stave off the effects of the slowdown.



But Prof Blanchflower, who served on the MPC from 2006-09 and is credited as one of the few economists to predict the recession, said today that whoever won this year's general election would have to reconsider whether the body should retain its power to set monetary policy.



Writing in the New Statesman, he said: "The MPC missed the recession entirely... The recession was much deeper because of their failure to act.



"The MPC was asleep at the wheel. Its inability to communicate adequately what quantitative easing is supposed to do suggests it has learned little."



And he added: "This MPC is not fit for purpose and should be disbanded...



"The MPC's days are numbered, certainly in terms of its remit and probably its membership. After the election we are going to have to reconsider who sets monetary policy."



Minutes of MPC meetings show that, from early in 2007, Prof Blanchflower voted to reduce interest rates on numerous occasions when his colleagues opted to hold them steady or raise them.



This morning he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "The Bank of England acted too late. If they had cut interest rates sooner, we would be in a better position than we are now.



"The worry is what happens in the recovery. I worry that the mistakes they made on the way down, they are making the same mistakes now and we need a change."



Prof Blanchflower said inflation was "the wrong target" for the MPC, which should also take account of the impact of its decisions on unemployment.



The Government has committed itself to halving Britain's £178 billion deficit within four years and the Conservatives have said they would do so sooner, reducing budgets immediately if they win power in this year's election.



But Prof Blanchflower warned: "What we have to focus on at the moment is getting a plan for recovery and growth, and then worry about paying off the debt. The whole political consensus which has gone to 'Cut, cut, cut' is quite wrong."



And he added: "Down the road we are going to have to save money, but at the moment we have to rescue the patient. We have to make sure the patient is OK and then put further treatment in.



"One of the big things we have to do is adjust to a period when the price of credit is higher. That's going to impact on people's living standards and it's going to be tough times to come."

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