Let’s do lunch…..

Last week I had lunch at the Bank of England. I’ll just let that one sink in a moment. Actually it was the day that the Monetary Policy Committee decided on a second round of quantitative easing, although I can’t claim to have influenced the decision even though I visited the room in which they made it. The committee of course were long gone by then, and all efforts to get an inside line on their discussion by looking for indentations on the notepaper left behind were in vain…..

OK, a moment to show off perhaps, but like most things I do it was an opportunity to share knowledge and find out what is really happening in the world of Enterprise Britain. The reason for my lunch was a meeting with Peter Andrews, Greater London Agent for the Bank of England, alongside other members of the London Local Chambers Forum. The Bank uses agents like Peter throughout the UK to gather anecdotal evidence to add to the swathe of numerical and statistical data used to monitor the economy.

As you can imagine, when a dozen or so businessmen committed to success get together in a room strong views and opinions fly out at a rate of knots. Regulation, planning, support for construction, infrastructure and education all came under the spotlight. Unsurprisingly the banks got a bashing for their continuing reluctance to provide the finance required by SMEs in the current climate. There was some concern about inflation and its potential impact on pay settlements which to date have been subdued as employees focused on keeping their jobs.

One of our number asserted that what was happening was more of a restructuring rather than a recession based on a shifting of the economic balance of power from west to east, and that solutions needed to be in place to address this fundamental issue above all else.

As the penultimate contributor I noted that little attention was paid to the level of underemployment in the labour market, particularly amongst older professionals who have become freelancers as a result of being made redundant, which was a tremendous waste of talent. I also made the point that it would be nice if the large corporates who are apparently hoarding £60billion in cash at present could use some of this to pay their smaller suppliers on time. The impact of this on SME working capital would be significant, more I would venture to suggest that any increase in the availability of bank finance.

Throughout all this, the man from the Bank of England took copious notes, smiled, empathised, made fleeting comments, sought clarifications and picked up on points that were consistent with what he was hearing from other sources.

Hopefully what he heard from us will make it back to those with the power to deal with the macro economic issues that appear to be putting recovery at risk. For many people 2011 was shaping up to be a good year until the economic situation started to deteriorate during the summer.

In spite of all the gloom it is clear that companies large and small are getting on with life and trying to grow their businesses. It would be a shame if all these efforts went to waste because the policymakers were unable to do their job. We are playing our part. One hopes they realise this in London, Washington, Brussels, Frankfurt…….

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