Treasury panel split on scope for cut in rates

DIANE COYLE

Economics Editor

A report due to be published early next month by the panel of independent advisers to the Treasury - the Chancellor's ``wise people'' - will show that four out of the six do not think there is scope for further cuts in the cost of borrowing.

The forecasts for the economy presented by the six economists at their meeting last week show that most think the Government's inflation target would be at risk if base rates were reduced much further.

The most optimistic about growth - who therefore think there is little call for a fourth reduction in interest rates - are Professor Tim Congdon of Lombard Street Research, Martin Weale of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research and Bridget Rosewell of Business Strategies.

Professor Congdon has warned that rapid monetary growth could take the UK inflation rate well above inflation in its European neighbours, perhaps to more than 5 per cent by 1999. Ms Rosewell emphasises the likely impact of windfalls such as building society share give-aways on consumer spending.

Kate Barker of the Confederation of British Industry - which predicts inflation somewhat above its target by the end of this year - believes it is sensible to keep interest rates unchanged until it is clearer how strong consumer spending might be.

The remaining two wise men - Gavyn Davies of Goldman Sachs and Professor Patrick Minford of Liverpool University - make gloomier predictions about growth this year. Mr Davies, however, thinks there is room for no more than one more base rate cut by mid-year.

Professor Minford stands out as the exception. ``There should be a strong signal that the economy will be allowed to recover,'' he says, calling for another two point reduction to take base rates to 4 per cent.

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