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Interest rates must hit 6pc to tame inflation, says founding Bank of England rate-setter

·3-min read
Willem Buiter - Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg
Willem Buiter - Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

The Bank of England will be forced to raise interest rates to 6pc to tame soaring inflation, a founding member of Threadneedle Street’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has warned.

Willem Buiter, who joined the panel of rate setters when it was established in 1997, said policy will need to be "seriously restrictive" to bring inflation down to the Bank's 2pc target.

"It won’t be pretty. There will be a recession," he said.

It came as almost a dozen former rate setters said the Bank had failed to spot signs that the economy was overheating last year.

"The Bank was, and continues to be, too slow in responding to rising inflation," said Mr Buiter.

Charles Goodhart and Dame DeAnne Julius, two other MPC founder members, warned that policymakers would struggle to get price rises back under control.

Dame DeAnne said: "My best guess is for the Bank rate to peak between 4pc and 5pc before coming down again, but this may take several years.”

Mr Goodhart said policymakers faced a challenging trade-off between controlling price pressures and supporting growth.

He added: "My guess is that the Bank will stop raising short-term rates slightly above 4pc, but that will not be enough to bring inflation back to target, because the damage to output and unemployment will be felt to be too high."

Mr Goodhart added that he expected inflation to remain stuck at around 3.5pc in the coming years.

Andrew Bailey, the Bank’s Governor, has come under fire for failing to get a grip on inflation. Price rises, as measured by the consumer prices index, currently stand at 10.1pc, far short of the Bank’s own 2pc target and a figure which is forecast to rise further in the coming months as average energy bills soar above £3,000.

While much of the surge is due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, recent data suggest inflation is becoming more entrenched.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has said she intends to review the Bank's mandate if she becomes prime minister to "make sure it is tough enough on inflation".

However, policymakers warned that changing the mandate at a time of volatile price pressures could trigger a sterling crisis.

The UK's current account deficit, which measures trade and other cross-border transactions, is at a joint record high of 7.1pc of gross domestic product (GDP). This leaves the pound vulnerable to a sharp fall in value if overseas investors pull their money out of the UK.

Martin Weale, who served on the MPC between 2010 and 2016, said political meddling combined with big spending pledges was a big risk.

He said: "If there's talk of changing the mandate, to the extent that politicians may become more involved in setting interest rates, that will weaken the value of the pound.

"Foreign investors would sell sterling because they feared future inflation. And a falling exchange rate would then itself aggregate inflation.

"And if you're doing that at the same time as having a marked increase in government borrowing, that could feed into a sterling crisis."

Others said a change in the mandate risked raising the UK's borrowing costs. Sir Charlie Bean, a former deputy governor, said mandate reviews were "sensible" if carried out at pre-set intervals, like in Canada, where remits are reviewed every five years.

But he added: "If they are changed is such a way as to give politicians more influence on monetary policy decisions then I would expect it to lead to an immediate and substantial rise in long-term inflation expectations and the yield on long-term UK gilts, reversing the more than 50bps fall that took place when BoE independence was announced back in 1997."