Brown's two MPC newcomers may tilt balance away from rate rise

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Gordon Brown finally unveiled the names of the two economists who will fill the long-standing vacancies on the Bank of England's interest rate committee - although they will not bring it back to full strength until October.

Timothy Besley, a professor at the London School of Economics, will join the Monetary Policy Committee in September. Andrew Sentance, chief economist at British Airways, will start in October.

It means the MPC will have only seven of its nine members as the Bank prepares its key quarterly inflation report in the run-up to the August rate meeting.

The delay in appointing a replacement for Richard Lambert, who left to take up the top job at the employers' group CBI in February, has led to widespread criticism of the appointment process.

The problem for the Treasury was compounded by the death of David Walton, a former City economist, at the age of 43.

The recent appointment of David Blanchflower, a British-born but US-resident academic, was soured after it emerged the Bank will have to pay £80,000 a year to ferry him over from New Hampshire and house him in London.

The Chancellor praised his two selections yesterday. "Their extensive experience will enable them to make an invaluable contribution to the work of the committee," he said.

Analysts scoured the records of the two men to see how their appointment would affect the balance of views on the committee.

Mr Walton was seen as a "hawk" on inflation after voting twice for a rise in rates and analysts said the appointment of Mr Sentance, who has a career in industry, could tip the balance away from a rate rise.

Before joining BA, Mr Sentance spent seven years as a senior economist at the CBI. Alan Clarke, an economist at BNP Paribas, said: "Sentance comes from industry - ex-CBI and BA - and is hardly likely to be an inflation nutter, so a dovish swap for Walton."

Economists also pointed to his role on a shadow MPC run by The Times, where he called for a rate cut in March and April. At the July meeting he voted to keep rates on hold. "Interest rates may need to rise at some point, but not yet," he said.

"Consumer spending is still subdued, though it is beginning to recover. This shows that growth prospects are still vulnerable to a weaker global economy which would hit exports and investment - so the Bank should be cautious about raising rates at this stage."

Mr Sentance said he was delighted to join the MPC. "I hope that both my economic expertise and business experience will be of value to the committee."

Analysts said Professor Besley's stance on monetary policy was not immediately apparent from his academic writings. He is a director of the Economic Organisation and Public Policy Programme at the LSE that tries to develop policies and developing institutions capable of reducing poverty and enhancing growth.

Last year Professor Besley was awarded the Yrjo Jahnsson Award to a European economist under 45. The Treasury said it was the most prestigious award in European economics, and was the European equivalent of the American Clark medal.

Malcolm Barr, UK economist at JP Morgan, said: "Neither his research interests, nor a quick scan of his published work, reveal much about how we may think about his voting behaviour in the future."

The issue of the appointment process is unlikely to go away as MPs on the Treasury Select Committee plan to launch an investigation next year.

In the Commons yesterday, the Conservative Mark Hoban said appointments were being made "furtively behind closed doors on the whim of the Chancellor". For the Liberal Democrats, Julia Goldsworthy said Bank independence had been "compromised by the direct control you exercise on appointments".

BA and LSE provide Bank's latest rate-setters


For a man who has academic qualifications in abundance, the only surprising thing about the choice of Professor Tim Besley is the relative lack of research on UK monetary policy in a vast backlog of publications.

As well as being a professor of economics and political science at the London School of Economics, he is also director of the Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines at the LSE.

Last year he won the Yrjo Jahnsson Award, made every second year to a European economist under 45, and seen as the most prestigious award in European economics. The Treasury described it as the European equivalent of the American John Bates Clark medal, which has been awarded to economists such as Paul Krugman.

One City economist described him yesterday as "possibly the leading UK academic economist". He joins Mervyn King, Charlie Bean, Stephen Nickell and Charles Goodhart as MPC members to arrive from the LSE.

The 45-year-old economist lists his research areas as public economics, development economics and political economy. He has written research papers into areas such as property rights in Ghana.

Adarsh Sinha, a currency strategist at Barclays Capital, said: "If you look on Besley's website, he hasn't really written about the UK, so he's a bit more of a wild card."

The Chancellor might, however, be interested in his research into MPs' expenses as a way of assessing their value for money. One finding showed that a 60-year-old Conservative MP with 30 years' experience will claim about £350 more in expenses per vote - or 60 per cent above the average - than a 30-year-old Labour MP who had just entered Parliament.


For Andrew Sentance, the appointment to the MPC in effect closes a decade-long cycle of moves between the private and public sectors.

The 47-year-old economist was a founder member of the panel of independent forecasters - dubbed the "wise men" - appointed by the then Chancellor Ken Clarke in 1993 to help steer policy at a time when the Treasury controlled both the fiscal and monetary levers.

But it is his prominent role as a business economist that will attract the attention of the MPC-watchers in the City.

With the departure of Richard Lambert to the CBI, the MPC lost someone with close contact with business leaders and the issues that are close to their hearts. As editor of the Financial Times for a decade, he was seen by Mervyn King, the Governor, as a skilled communicator between the world of business and the Bank.

By bringing in Mr Sentance, the Chancellor has righted the balance between academic economists - such as Charlie Bean and David Blanchflower - and those with detailed knowledge of industry and the markets such as Kate Barker.

He was head of economic policy at the CBI between 1986 and 1988 and its director of economic affairs until 1993. After a spell teaching at the London Business School, where he was director of the Centre for Economic Forecasting, he became chief economist at British Airways.

As head of environmental affairs at BA, since 2002 he has also been responsible for developing BA's environmental and corporate responsibility policies.

He was educated at Eltham College, London, Clare College, Cambridge, and the LSE, where he gained his doctorate. He is married with one son and one daughter.

Profiles by Philip Thornton