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Banking on feedback from Shropshire companies

By Carl Jones

When the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee sits down each month to set the base rate of interest, it carefully considers feedback received from its network of agents across the UK.

These agents tour the country seeking the opinions of all sections of the local business community, and are regular visitors to Shropshire.

And our county’s connection doesn’t end there, because Glynn Jones, the Bank’s deputy agent for the West Midlands and Oxfordshire, was born in Telford and spent many years being raised in Shrewsbury.

The Bank has 12 agencies which form a national network across the UK, and Glynn works from offices in Birmingham city centre. So, what exactly is their agenda?

Glynn, pictured below, explains: “Our primary role is to assess both economic and financial conditions based on the views of businesses in the region as an input to the policy making process, both for monetary and financial stability. The agencies therefore form a vital link between business and the Bank.

“The Bank’s regional branches were first established in 1826 as a response to the financial crisis of 1825-26, involving the failure of many provincial banks.  

“The main reason for establishing the branch banks was to enable the Bank to take further control of paper note circulation, in order to prevent another crisis.

“The Bank’s Court of Directors decided that branch business should be conducted by ‘persons of commercial knowledge with local experience’.”  

While the network of branches grew and changed during the 19th century, their basic responsibility was still to provide a banking and banknote distribution service, and branches continued to issue notes into the early 20th century.

From 1930 on, however, the branches gained a new function – a requirement to send confidential reports on business conditions to Threadneedle Street, the Bank’s iconic London headquarters.

This intelligence gathering role was further enhanced by the establishment of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee in May 1997.  

Glynn says: “The network now had a key role to play in enabling the Bank to collect ‘proper regional and sectoral information for the purpose of monetary policy formation.’  

“Since then, the agents’ role has continued to evolve and grow to include intelligence pertinent to the Bank’s financial stability functions, an aspect of work which has been given added impetus by the recent creation of the Financial Policy Committee and Prudential Regulation Authority.

“With around 9,000 contacts a year across a range of sectors, the Agents have access to a deep pool of business intelligence.

“In Shropshire, I visit a very diverse range of businesses, from local farmers to major manufacturers, tourism operators to car dealerships, logistics and not forgetting my favourite – the food and drinks sector.

“We also hold two panel meetings in Shrewsbury and Telford, drawing together a range of local employers.”  

This intelligence is not just analysed and communicated internally, but is also viewable externally, via the Agents’ Summary of Business Conditions, which is published on the Bank’s website at the same time as the minutes of the MPC’s monthly meeting.

The summary includes the agents’ ‘scores’ together with findings from special surveys commissioned by the MPC and based on interviews with contacts to investigate a particular issue of topical interest in more depth. 

Glynn continues: “The agents are also widely known through their representational role, notably our presentations of the Inflation and the Financial Stability Reports.  

“In Shropshire, this involves regular presentations to the business community, including the Business Board, events at Telford College of Arts and Technology, and the Telford Business Partnership.

“This engagement is not confined to businesses but also includes the wider community, the third and education sectors. Through this role, the agents help to communicate policy to a broad audience and to promote a widespread understanding and trust of the monetary and financial stability policy framework.” 

As part of this engagement, Glynn says the agencies also host regional visits by policymakers and facilitate meetings between them and firms around the country.

“Through these meetings - and events - such the recent Future Forum held in the Midlands in October - policymakers are able to engage directly with the public and the business community.

“And they are able to hear, first-hand accounts, about the issues facing both and gain insights into the workings of the economy, including underlying dynamics of change – not just what is happening here and now.”

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the job, according to Glynn, is interaction with schools, and the business people of tomorrow.

“The agencies have been instrumental in the Bank’s schools’ challenge - Target 2.0 - which has been attracting entries from over 250 schools from all over the UK for nearly two decades, with agents acting as judges in regional heats and finals.

“All in all it makes for a busy, challenging but thoroughly rewarding job – I can honestly say no two days are the same.   

“And while the agencies have a long pedigree, they continue to perform a vital role for the Bank which recent events – not least the heightened uncertainty following the EU referendum vote to the more wide ranging responsibilities given to the Bank by Parliament - only serve to reinforce.” 

* Glynn Jones will be the guest speaker at Telford Business Partnership's next breakfast meeting on January 17, at the Park House Hotel in Shifnal. For more details, see www.telfordbusiness.org,, or book tickets through  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/telford-business-partnership-breakfast-meeting-with-the-bank-of-england-tickets-28513284000  

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