THE TREASURY may this week have to seek a new member of the panel of seven 'wise men' who provide the Chancellor with independent advice on the economy. Andrew Sentance may create a vacancy by leaving his job of director of economics at the Confederation of British Industry.
He is thought to be joining the London Business School's Centre for Economic Forecasting as deputy to Professor David Currie, another of the 'wise men'. Despite the resulting accumulation of wisdom at the LBS - and its status as the preferred alma mater of senior Treasury officials and advisers - the school is unlikely to be allowed to supply two of the Chancellor's team of seven. Judging by the number of City and academic economists aggrieved at not being on the original list, the competition to join could be fierce.
At the LBS, Mr Sentance would replace Geoffrey Dicks, who is taking the City shilling by joining NatWest Markets as chief UK economist. Professor Currie said the replacement - still to be finally approved - will be 'a big name'.
The Treasury may offer the vacant place in the august septet to Mr Sentance's deputy at the CBI, Sudhir Junankar. The CBI owes its place among the seven largely to the role that its long-established surveys of business opinion play in its forecasting. Doug McWilliams, a former CBI chief economist who now runs his own consultancy, might also be regarded as maintaining the link.
The Treasury could, however, look to the Square Mile. The City currently has only two representatives among the seven - Gavyn Davies, of Goldman Sachs and the Independent's economic columnist, and Tim Congdon, of Lombard Street Research.
Leading candidates to join them might include Roger Bootle, of Midland Bank, who has been more accurate than most forecasters in predicting the limited impact on inflation of last year's devaluation of the pound, and Bill Martin, chief economist at UBS.
The Treasury might also decide that the present all- male line-up of the seven is less than politically correct. In this case, Mitsubishi Bank's Ruth Lea, a frequent face on Newsnight, might be favoured. The Treasury is not, however, famed for its liberal attitude in matters of gender. One of its most senior female officials once complained: 'Everyone at the Treasury is allowed one idiosyncracy, and if you are a woman that's it.'
More dramatically, the Chancellor may decide that the fragmentation of the panel is an excuse for its abolition. The seven are certainly not regarded as an unqualified success. The publicity they receive has magnified the academic point-scoring that all economists enjoy into embarrassing national news.
The Chancellor may decide that enough is enough: this month's pre-Budget report could be their last.
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