Andrew Bailey: embattled Bank of England governor

London (AFP) –


Andrew Bailey took over as governor of the Bank of England last year, just as Covid hit Britain like a storm, sinking the economy to uncharted depths.

The economy shrank by 9.9 percent last year due to the effect of the global health crisis -- the biggest contraction on record.

But if that was not enough to deal with, Bailey's first 12 months in office has seen him come under repeated scrutiny about his past role as head of the country's securities regulator.

The coronavirus pandemic gave Bailey, 61, from Leicester, central England, no time to settle in.

"It was the third day of my term when the markets team came into the office and said, 'we need to talk'. That's never good," he told the Financial Times last May.

Under his leadership, the bank lowered its key interest rates to an all-time low and increased its asset-purchase programme to prevent the economy from going under.

A year on, the overall picture looks markedly different.

Some 25 million people -- or half of all the country's adult population -- has received a first dose of a vaccine and there are tentative moves towards easing lockdown restrictions.

The economic situation, too, appears to be improving.

But 2021 could yet be as eventful for Bailey, as a series of scandals during his career in the City rear their heads.

- Scandals -

Bailey, a more subdued figure to his charismatic predecessor Mark Carney, earned a doctorate at Cambridge University before becoming a researcher at the London School of Economics, where his wife Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey teaches political science.

He joined Britain's central bank in 1985, and has spent most of his working life on Threadneedle Street.

The bespectacled father-of-two played a key role during the 2008 financial crisis, when he was in charge of the bank's special operations that oversaw the publicly-funded rescue of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In 2016, he left the institution to join the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) watchdog after being headhunted.

He has admitted the job was tough, although he had no regrets about taking up the position.

Under his tenure, the FCA was rocked by a series of scandals, including the collapse of former star investor Neil Woodford's fund and London Capital and Finance.

The fall of LCF, which cost thousands of investors their life savings, continues to dog the governor to this day.

Judge Elizabeth Gloster, who is conducting an inquiry into the FCA's responsibility for the collapse, has accused Bailey of pressuring her not to include his name in her report.

He has denied the allegation. But he has had to repeatedly defend his record.

- Brexit -

Bailey also differs from his Canadian predecessor Carney on Brexit, Britain's divisive departure from the European Union last year.

While "leave" supporters accused Carney of being too pessimistic in his forecasts of the financial implications of leaving the bloc, Bailey has shown himself ready to defend the City at all costs.

The financial sector was virtually ignored in the last-gasp trade agreement secured in late December.

The EU is concerned that much of its financial activity will be channeled through London, which it no longer regulates.

But Bailey said he was prepared to "resist vigorously" to keep euro-clearing houses in Britain.

He has said it would be "unrealistic, dangerous and inconsistent with practice" to agree to never change UK financial regulation because of market changes and unforseen risks.

But forcing Britain to march in lock-step with future EU regulations was "rule-taking, pure and simple", and failed to account for the outsized share of UK finance in the global economy.

He argues instead for an acceptance of healthy competition between London and the EU.

"I believe we have a very bright future competing in global financial markets underpinned by strong and effective common global regulatory standards," he added.