January 30, 2008

Mervyn King

Mervyn King has received another term as Governor of the Bank of England, thanks in part to his reputation for a sensible inflation policy and partly due to the fact that the recent Treasury Select Committee Report on Northern Rock condemned the FSA and not the Bank of England. I have no quarrel with the decision: I am no expert in who should be Governor of the Bank of England and given the relative consensus about the reappointment see no reason to be disquieted about King's return to the top post. But there is something interesting I think we should reflect on and its this. Increasingly posts like the Governor of the Bank of England or should it become independent the Head of the Health Service and other jobs are getting more and more powerful: at the moment they are appointed by ministers without much consideration by anyone else until after the event, should that be true?

I don't think it should. Ultimately the UK government is beggining to gather and use instruments within the leglislature to check and scrutinise central government. Whether it be the Public Accounts Committee using the National Audit Office to scrutinise government spending or the Select Committee for the Treasury examining the events at Northern Rock almost all of the select committees have had their moment in the sun. Perhaps though its time to expand their role even further and adopt the US model of confirmation hearings- making these senior and responsible appointments subject to public examination. Often the US system doesn't work and there are problems with it: but on the other hand there are merits to any nominee for a senior position like the governorship of the Bank with large discretionary powers in facing Parliament. It would not be appropriate for a civil servant whose responsibility is to ennact ministerial policy: but for someone whose responsibility is to define what policy is, Parliament should be able to hear what their intentions are, what their philosophy of monetary policy (in the case of the Bank) is and how they would behave. The public are also entitled to hear from them: unlike a civil servant for whose decisions the minister is ultimately responsible, the Governor of the Bank, the Auditor General and other officials are not presided over by a minister. The public ought to know who they are, what they want to do and what their responsibilities are. Confirmation hearings can but help.

And we have the appropriate places for those hearings to take place: the Select Committees. The function would strengthen the role of those select Committees politically too- it would raise their exposure and hopefully demonstrate to MPs that there is a career beyond being an executive minister, that there is a career in scrutinising policy as well.


stacy said...

I like your blog. I especially like that it's pink. And your list of links. Bravo. :)

Gracchi said...

Me and my whole family are colour blind- we thought it was grey and now its too late to change!