Treasury finds wise woman to join panel

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The Independent Online

Economics Correspondent

The Treasury has ended its year-long search for a woman to join its panel of independent forecasters. The appointment of Kate Barker, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, is likely to be announced this week.

Two other new members are expected to join Ms Barker, a former economist for the Ford motor company. The front runners are Martin Weale, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), and John Walker, director of Oxford Economic Forecasting, a commercial forecasting group.

Mandarins have been keen to find a woman to join the panel - not least to stop people referring to it as the Treasury's wise men.

Ms Barker is thought to have been run a close second by Bridget Rosewell, director of Business Strategies, a regional forecasting company. Ms Rosewell is a former CBI economist, and her group uses the same economic forecasting model as the CBI, meaning that only one of the two women would get a place.

Another name believed to have been on the shortlist drawn up by Alan Budd, the Treasury's chief economic adviser is City of London economist Roger Bootle at HSBC. However, the panel is currently heavily weighted towards the City, with two out of the three existing members, Gavyn Davies and Tim Congdon, working in the Square Mile.

When it was created at the beginning of 1993, in a bid to restore the Treasury's forecasting credibility after Britain's forced departure from the European exchange rate mechanism, there were seven wise men. The panel's public profile is lower now than in those early days, but economists still regard it as a prestigious opportunity.

The then-head of economics at the CBI, Andrew Sentance, left when he took another job last year. Andrew Britton left this year when he resigned as director of the NIESR.

Two other members, Professor David Currie of the London Business School and Professor Wynne Godley of Cambridge University, are leaving at the end of this year as part of the plan to rotate two seats annually. Finding replacements has proved a more difficult task than expected.