Inside the Bank of England
For over 300 hundred years, the Bank of England has maintained a reputation for reliability and security. If you bring old bank notes to the bank, it will exchange them at face value, even if the notes are hundreds of years old. So secure are the Bank’s underground vaults that foreign governments entrust billions of pounds worth of gold to the Bank’s safekeeping.
Yet the Bank’s responsibilities are far greater and wider reaching than the gold it protects. Since the financial crisis a decade ago, it has been given significant new powers and a responsibility for policing the UK’s financial system. Filmed during 2018, this episode reveals how the bank is preparing for all eventualities, including the possible economic shock of Brexit and climate change.
It is October and with six months until the UK is due to leave the European Union, the government’s yet to agree a draft withdrawal treaty with Brussels. The possibility of a no-deal Brexit is increasing, and Parliament has tasked the bank with producing a special Brexit report, and to include a detailed analysis of the economic impact that leaving the EU without a deal could have.
In the bank’s financial stability area, executive director Alex Brazier and his team are busy assessing whether the UK’s financial system is strong enough to cope with a disorderly Brexit. To find out, they are subjecting the country’s biggest high street banks to stress tests, one of the most thorough economics examinations that they face. The tests reveal if they hold enough contingency funds to withstand a no deal. On everyone’s minds is the chaos that engulfed the economy a decade ago.
In 2008 the country’s banking system, and the Bank of England, were caught out by the financial crisis. High-street banks haemorrhaged money and stopped lending, the economy seized up and people queued in their thousands to take out their savings. The Bank of England lent hundreds of billions to bail out the banks, and catastrophic damage was done to businesses and livelihoods across the country. As a result of the crisis, the bank hired Mark Carney as governor and he is tasked with ensuring the UK’s banks have enough capital to avoid the same happening again.
Alongside the economic danger that a disorderly Brexit could pose, the bank is dealing with longer-term threats. The episode follows Carney and his team to New York, where, alongside the world’s leading politicians, he is announcing a major breakthrough in the bank’s efforts to protect the global economy from the effects of climate change. As well as causing trillions of pounds worth of physical damage, companies who invest in fossil fuels could see their assets wiped out as the world transitions away from a carbon economy. The Bank of England wants to ensure banks and businesses are prepared for anything that a future climate crisis might bring.
Back in the UK, as the government agrees a draft withdrawal deal with Europe and MPs prepare to vote on it, the release of the bank’s Brexit report is imminent. The bank’s press team - led by ex-journalist Mike Peacock - is feeling the pressure. Since the EU referendum in 2016, the bank has had to defend the governor against accusations that he is part of ‘project fear’, and they are bracing themselves for more heavy criticism when the bank’s report is published.
It is not just the press inquisition that Mike’s team has to prepare for - shortly after the report is published, the governor and his colleagues travel to Parliament to have their findings forensically examined by a committee of cross-party MPs. Show less