Town Hall in Leicester: August 2017

On 4 August 2017, we held the second in our series of town halls in Leicester with Andy Haldane, our Chief Economist, who listened to the issues that mattered most to the community.
The event was organised in association with the Muslim Council of Britain and members from various sectors including charities, businesses, faith, youth and education joined in the discussions.
The discussions provided food for thought and were incredibly enjoyable for Andy and the Bank. Andy and the team greatly appreciated the views, experiences and anecdotes of those who came along.
Some thoughts from Andy following the Town Hall can be found below.

Andy Haldane's Town Hall Blog: Leicester

I was delighted to visit Leicester on 4 August for the second of my town hall tours. It was a real privilege to partner with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) who organised a fantastic programme and set of participants from the local area.  
A large number of important issues were raised in the sequence of panel discussions which took place. These included:

  • In the light (or the shadow) of the financial crisis, the importance of clear communications by policy makers, including the Bank, to generate improved understanding and confidence in the economy and financial system; 
  • the loss of trust in banks and the implications this had for how businesses gained access to credit – for example, with more businesses now “self-financing” rather than seeking bank loans; 
  • the difficulties for young people aiming to get a foot on the housing market ladder, with house prices high and larger deposits needed for mortgages;
  • the increasing problems faced by charities in general, and Muslim charities in particular, in gaining access to banking services, both deposit accounts and loans; and
  • the need for improved education, both among adults and children, in areas such as the functioning of the economy and the financial system, to improve people’s everyday decision-making. 

The first and last of these issues are ones which will be a particular priority for the Bank over the next few years. For example, improving people’s understanding of the economy will be the focus of the Bank's Future Forum, which will take place in Liverpool on 16 November. The public ballot for tickets is now open. These and other issues are summarised in the cartoon graphics for the event above.
The issue which perhaps attracted most discussion, however, was Islamic finance.  This is a rapidly growing market, with Islamic financial products now estimated to total almost £2 trillion globally.  This market is also growing rapidly in the U.K., with a number of banks now offering Shari'ah-compliant financial products of various kinds.
Nonetheless, as participants at the town hall pointed out, Islamic banking is not yet a mainstream part of the UK financial services industry.  Some of the major high street banks were not offering Islamic financial products and some had recently revised or withdrawn their products.  Meanwhile, progress on developing other Shari’ah-compliant products, such as student loans and pension products, had been slow.  

From my conversations last week, it is clear this slow progress was having real costs for parts of the Muslim community.  It increased the chances of people being unbanked and reliant on cash.  It increased the chances of people not having access to credit to enable them to invest - in machines, houses, their own or their kids’ education.  And it restricted peoples’ choice of investment products, hindering their ability to manage their money safely and flexibly.  

The Bank of England – as banker to the commercial banks – has been actively involved in supporting Islamic finance for more than a decade now.  Most recently, it has been exploring means of providing banks with a Shari’ah-compliant deposit facility at the Bank, to help them meet their regulatory requirements and to manage their liquidity.  The Bank outlined its preferred model of this facility earlier this year - see Shari'ah complaint facilities - and it hopes to have this facility in place during the course of next year.

This will provide some infrastructure to support Islamic banking in the U.K.  But it is clear more will need to be done by the financial services industry to make Islamic banking mainstream.  My visit underscored for me the importance of doing so, if the UK is to have a world-leading financial services industry which genuinely works for everyone.  And the Bank will continue to work with others – in government, in financial services and in the Muslim community – to achieve that objective.  

Finally, let me extend my thanks to a few people for making the visit so enjoyable and productive.  First, to Nash Jaffer and Farooq Murad from the Muslim Council of Britain for their help in organising the event.  I hope this is the start of a fruitful and ongoing relationship between the Bank and the MCB. Second, to Alastair Cunningham and Pam Wright, the Bank's agents in the Midlands, for their expert support and co-ordination.