The Bank of England should be privatised and once again empowered to regulate the banking system. This is the controversial conclusion of a new research paper, Central Banking in a Free Society*, released by the Institute of Economic Affairs today.
The reports author, Professor Tim Congdon**, argues that Gordon Browns 1997 changes to the structure of financial regulation have been largely responsible for the catastrophe that has hit the British banking industry. The reversal of these changes, including the return of banking supervision and regulation to the Bank of England, is essential. Congdon argues that the Bank of England could do its job most effectively if it were privatised. Like the Federal Reserve in the USA, it should be owned by the main commercial banks, which are its principal stakeholders.
Professor Congdon said:
"The current financial crisis raises fundamental questions about the relationship between the commercial banks and the Bank of England. Before 1997 Britain had a system in which the Bank of England had an understood responsibility to act as lender of last resort to the banks and to help them if they had difficulty funding their assets. That system was a success, which was copied around the world. Unfortunately, it was undermined by Gordon Browns so-called reforms at the start of his Chancellorship, leading to the worst financial crisis in this country since the South Sea Bubble.
"The Bank of England should be privately owned as it was for more than two and a half centuries prior to 1946. Its capital should be provided by the commercial banks and it should have regulatory power over these banks in addition to providing a lender of last resort facility. These supervisory and lender-of-last-resort functions are inseparable.
"If we do not seize this opportunity to establish a sound and viable structure for British banking, we face the very real risk that we will lose a major proportion of our financial services industry to markets regulated by the European Central Bank or the Federal Reserve."
The report also argues that:
- The lender of last resort facility shoul