Treasury gets more power to act in a financial crisis

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The Treasury will have new powers to order the Bank of England to pump money into the financial system in any future banking crisis.

Chancellor George Osborne published a law yesterday to radically reform the way Britain’s financial system is regulated, and set out who has ultimate authority in a crisis.

“When taxpayers’ money is at risk in a crisis this legislation gives the Chancellor the power to direct the Bank of England to act,” Mr Osborne said in a speech to the world’s political and financial elite in Davos, Switzerland.

“For the first time it will allow the Chancellor to direct specific liquidity interventions to assist individual entities, the special resolution regime for banks, and general interventions to preserve stability as long as the Government is willing to take responsibility for the action and take the resulting risk on its balance sheet.”

The new law, an attempt to draw a line under the regulatory failings that forced taxpayers to stump up hundreds of billions of pounds to shore up the banking sector in 2008, scraps the Financial Services Authority from 2013 and hands power to supervise banks and insurers to the Bank of England.

A major failure of the 15-year-old tripartite system of financial regulation at the time of the 2008 financial crisis was a lack of clear lines of responsibility between the FSA, the Bank and the Treasury, which shared the role.

“There will be no ambiguity about who is in charge,” Mr Osborne said.

The Treasury will have the power to direct the Bank only “if the direction is necessary to resolve or reduce a serious threat to the stability of the financial system of the United Kingdom,” according to the Financial Services Bill.

Alistair Darling, Chancellor during the 2008 crisis, wrote in a book last year of his frustration at not being able to order the Bank to do what he felt was right. “The Bank was independent and the Governor knew it,” he wrote.

The bill also stipulates that a future Bank governor should serve a single eight-year term rather than the current renewable five-year term. Current Governor Mervyn King’s term is due to expire in mid-2013.

The bill confirmed that the Financial Services Authority would be scrapped next year and replaced by two separate bodies.

One, the Financial Conduct Authority, will police markets and have power to regulate consumer credit, currently handled by the Office of Fair Trading. The bill stops short of giving the FCA competition powers, which it had sought.

A second body, the Prudential Regulatory Authority, will be a subsidiary of the Bank and will concentrate on day-to-day supervision of banks.

The role of the Financial Policy Committee is to identify risks to financial stability in the UK and direct regulators to take action.