(England Twitter)-Bank of England (formally the Governor and Company of the Bank of England) is (despite its name) the central bank of the whole of the United Kingdom and is the model on which most modern central banks have been based. It was established in 1694 to act as the English Government's banker, and to this day it still acts as the banker for HM Government. The Bank was privately owned and operated from its foundation in 1694. It was subordinated to the Treasury after 1931 in making policy and was nationalised in 1946.
In 1997 it became an independent public organisation, wholly owned by the Treasury Solicitor on behalf of the Government, with independence in setting monetary policy.
The Bank has a monopoly on the issue of banknotes in England and Wales, although not in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands. The Bank's Monetary Policy Committee has devolved responsibility for managing the monetary policy of the country. The Treasury has reserve powers to give orders to the committee "if they are required in the public interest and by extreme economic circumstances" but such orders must be endorsed by Parliament within 28 days.
The Bank's headquarters has been located in London's main financial district, the City of London, on Threadneedle Street, since 1734. It is sometimes known by the metonym The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street or simply The Old Lady. The current Governor of the Bank of England is Mervyn King, who took over on 30 June 2003 from Sir Edward George. As well as the London offices, the Bank of England also has secondary offices on King Street in Leeds.
In 1734 the Bank of England moved to its current location on Threadneedle Street, and thereafter slowly acquired neighbouring land to create the edifice seen today. Sir Herbert Baker's rebuilding of the Bank of England, demolishing most of Sir John Soane's earlier building was described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as "the greatest architectural crime, in the City of London, of the twentieth century".
When the idea and reality of the National Debt came about during the 18th century this was also managed by the bank. By the charter renewal in 1781 it was also the bankers' bank – keeping enough gold to pay its notes on demand until 26 February 1797 when war had so diminished gold reserves that the government prohibited the Bank from paying out in gold. This prohibition lasted until 1821.
The 1844 Bank Charter Act tied the issue of notes to the gold reserves and gave the bank sole rights with regard to the issue of banknotes. Private banks which had previously had that right retained it, provided that their headquarters were outside London and that they deposited security against the notes that they issued. A few English banks continued to issue their own notes until the last of them was taken over in the 1930s. The Scottish and Northern Irish private banks still have that right.
Britain remained on the gold standard until 1931 when the gold and foreign exchange reserves were transferred to the Treasury. But their management was still handled by the Bank. In 1997 the bank was given responsibility for interest rate policy.
During the governorship of Montagu Norman, which lasted from 1920 to 1944, the Bank made deliberate efforts to move away from commercial banking and become a central bank. In 1946, shortly after the end of Norman's tenure, the bank was nationalised by the Labour government.
England's crushing defeat by France, the dominant naval power, in naval engagements culminating in the 1690 Battle of Beachy Head, became the catalyst to England rebuilding itself as a global power. England had no choice but to build a powerful navy if it was to regain global power. As there were no public funds available, in 1694 a private institution, the Bank of England, was set up to supply money to the King. £1.2m was raised in 12 days; half of this was used to rebuild the Navy.
As a side-effect, the huge industrial effort needed started to transform the economy, from iron works making nails to agriculture feeding the quadrupled strength of the Royal Navy. This helped the new United Kingdom – England and Scotland were formally united in 1707 – to become prosperous and powerful. Together with the power of the navy, this made Britain the dominant world power in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
More recently, in 2007 the Bank of England, in its role as lender of last resort, helped support Northern Rock, a specialist mortgage lender that suddenly became unable to rely on wholesale market borrowing to finance its lending operation following the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis. The role of supporting Northern Rock, and other UK banks caught up in the late 2000s financial crisis, is now performed by UK Financial Investments Limited, set up by the UK Government. The Bank of England of course still remains lender of last resort in the case of any further unexpected shock to the UK financial system.
Functions of the Bank
The Bank of England performs all the functions of a central bank. The most important of these is supposed to be maintaining price stability and supporting the economic policies of the British Government, thus promoting economic growth. There are two main areas which are tackled by the Bank to ensure it carries out these functions efficiently:
Bank House, the Bank of England offices on King Street in Leeds.
Stable prices and confidence in the currency are the two main criteria for monetary stability. Stable prices are maintained by making sure price increases meet the Government's inflation target. The Bank aims to meet this target by adjusting the base interest rate, which is decided by the Monetary Policy Committee, and through its communications strategy.
Maintaining financial stability involves protecting against threats to the whole financial system. Threats are detected by the Bank's surveillance and market intelligence functions. The threats are then dealt with through financial and other operations, both at home and abroad. In exceptional circumstances, the Bank may act as the lender of last resort by extending credit when no other institution will.
The Bank works together with several other institutions to secure both monetary and financial stability, including:
HM Treasury, the Government department responsible for financial and economic policy.
The Financial Services Authority, an independent body that regulates the financial services industry.
Other central banks and international organisations, with the aim of improving the international financial system.
The 1997 Memorandum of Understanding describes the terms under which the Bank, the Treasury and the FSA work toward the common aim of increased financial stability. In 2010 the incoming Chancellor announced his intention to merge the FSA back into the Bank.
The Bank of England acts as the Government's banker, and as such it maintains the Government's Consolidated Fund account. It also manages the country's foreign exchange and gold reserves. The Bank also acts as the bankers' bank, especially in its capacity as a lender of last resort.
The Bank of England has a monopoly on the issue of banknotes in England and Wales. Scottish and Northern Irish banks retain the right to issue their own banknotes, but they must be backed one to one with deposits in the Bank of England, excepting a few million pounds representing the value of notes they had in circulation in 1845. The Bank decided to sell its bank note printing operations to De La Rue in December 2002, under the advice of Close Brothers Corporate Finance Ltd.
Since 1997 the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has had the responsibility for setting the official interest rate. However, with the decision to grant the Bank operational independence, responsibility for government debt management was transferred to the new UK Debt Management Office in 1998, which also took over government cash management in 2000. Computershare took over as the registrar for UK Government bonds (known as gilts) from the Bank at the end of 2004.
The Bank used to be responsible for the regulation and supervision of the banking industry, although this responsibility was transferred to the Financial Services Authority in June 1998.
In order to help maintain economic stability, the Bank attempts to broaden understanding of its role, both through regular speeches and publications by senior Bank figures, and through a wider education strategy aimed at the general public. It maintains a free museum and runs the Target Two Point Zero competition for A-level students.
Asset Purchase Facility
The Bank has operated, since January 2009, an Asset Purchase Facility (APF) to buy "high-quality assets financed by the issue of Treasury bills and the DMO's cash management operations" and thereby improve liquidity in the credit markets. It has, since March 2009, also provided the mechanism by which the Bank's policy of quantitative easing (QE) is achieved, under the auspices of the MPC. Along with the managing the £200 billion of QE funds, the APF continues to operate its corporate facilities. Both are undertaken by a subsidiary company of the Bank of England, the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund Limited (BEAPFF)