Bank of England mulls pay rise for its court

"Just" £15,000 for three days work a month.

The Financial Times' Patrick Jenkins reports that Bank of England officials are considering boosting the pay of the non-executive directors in the Bank's "court" (its governing body):

The eight external non-executives in the 12-seat “court” – as the BoE’s governing body is named – are paid just £15,000 a year for a time commitment of three days a month. The chairman of the court, Sir David Lees, who works three to four days a week in his role, is paid £30,000.

“This needs to change,” said one person who is backing the reforms. “£15,000 is pitiful. It suggests people are only turning up for tea.”

Although "just £15,000" is actually a pro-rata salary of over £150,000 per year, hard for most to reconcile with the phrase "pitiful", there's a new urgency to getting this sorted out sooner rather than later. With the demise of the Financial Services Authority, which was disbanded at the end of March, financial regulation has been split between the new Financial Conduct Authority, which is operated under the aegis of the Treasury, and two bodies run by the Bank of England: the new Prudential Regulation Authority, and the Bank's own Financial Policy Committee.

On top of that, the Bank also now has an explicit remit to protect financial stability in the UK. All of those changes have made the danger of regulatory capture (when a regulator begins serving the interests of the industry they are regulating over the interests of the state) a more pressing issue than it has been for much of the bank's past; and one of the key ways of avoiding that capture is to pay the regulator enough that they don't find themselves beholden to those they are regulating.

Of course, that's less of an issue in the Bank of England than it is elsewhere. For one, sitting in the court remains a part-time job. A number of the members have other work which hardly leaves them penniless. The managing director of Lloyds Banking Group, the chairman of Legal and General Group and the managing partner of Grovepoint Capital are unlikely to find themselves suddenly corruptible because they spend a few days each month working for less than their normal pay; and regulatory capture is less of an issue if the industry being regulated already has half the seats at the table.

Which is probably why the key argument being made internally is one of perception. As one reformer tells Jenkins:

Continuing to call this body the court and paying people so little conveys the wrong impression externally.

But perception differs inside and outside the industries the Bank regulates. While it may be important in conversations with other people working in the city, there's a markedly different perception of the bank in the real world. While it's insulated from public opinion to a certain extent, it may still be a good idea for the court to let the new financial regulatory regime bed in before awarding themselves pay rises – because right now, the crash is still firm in people's minds, and that is something which doesn't justify a large salary at all.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.