Andy Haldane's Town Hall blog: South Wales
Last week I spent a day in South Wales on the first of my “Town hall” visits. I intend to write a short blog, to accompany other materials from the trip, after each visit. This is the first and, it being the first, I thought I’d say a little about what the Town halls are intended to achieve.
The Town halls are a new initiative from the Bank and a key part of its new outreach programme. The Bank has for many years had a regional presence around the UK through its Agency network. This has, understandably, tended to focus on speaking to private companies about their views on the economy. Over the past few years, the Agency network has widened its net to include charities, not-for-profit enterprises, trade unions and community and faith groups. This has yielded new, and important, sources of intelligence.
The purpose of the Town halls is to engage directly and more extensively with these wider communities. They are seeking to understand the issues that matter most to people when making their decisions about saving, spending and working. This intelligence will then feed back to policymakers at the Bank, including the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) on which I sit.
The Town halls are intended to reach people not previously reached by the Bank. Their aim is to provide a space in which policy-makers can listen, every bit as much as talk. And the hope is that these Town halls will deliver grassroots intelligence on the economy not available from other sources.
If those are the success criteria, the first Town hall was a real success. It was organised by Citizens UK, a body which mobilises communities to act together for the common good and in particular by Jonathan Cox, the Deputy Director for Citizens UK. This partnership model is one we will use throughout our Town halls programme, working in collaboration with community and faith groups, charities and citizen associations.
The day was structured around four events in four separate locations:
- Caerau and Ely, where I visited a community centre operated as part of Action in Caerau and Ely, hosted by Development Manager Dave Horton. They are doing fantastic work to support local people in the community.
- Barry (of Gavin and Stacey fame), where I had a roundtable discussion with local members of the community, hosted by the Reverend Carole Challis (with Dave, co-chair of Citizens Cymru Wales). I saw first-hand the impressive coastal regeneration project and ate my lunch in the pouring rain on Barry Island beach. Apparently, it has never rained there before.
- Porth (in the Rhondda Valley) where I met with local members of the community to hear about the issues facing those living in the Welsh valleys, hosted by James Hall of the People and Work Unit. I visited a new social enterprise café on the high street, The Shed, which opened the day after I visited and which is a great example of community action and high street regeneration.
- The Dar Ul-Isra Mosque in Cardiff, where I met local community and faith leaders and heard about some of the issues facing the Muslim community, including around access to Islamic financial products. It was hosted by Sahar Al-Faifi, assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Wales. I also enjoyed some absolutely delicious Syrian food, provided by Ali Mirzo!
Alongside interviews with Anushka Asthana (Political Editor of the Guardian, who kindly agreed to join us for the day and provide her perspective on the visit) and BBC Wales, this was a pretty intensive programme, speaking to around 100 people.
The great news is that it was both enjoyable and informative, helped by the goodwill and good humour of all of those who took part and the very considerable effort they put in to preparing for the events and offering their insights on the issues that mattered most to them. Those insights were too rich, many and varied to capture in a single blog post. The accompanying cartoons and photos, I hope, provide some more colour, as does Anushka’s excellent piece.
There was, however, one point which struck me which I wanted to single out: the emphasis people placed on the rising cost of living. This was eating into their purchasing power in ways which, for people on modest incomes, was forcing many of them to make painful life choices – for some, between heating and eating. Price rises in the shops are, for people on lower incomes, something which affects greatly their everyday lives and everyday choices about what and how much to buy, what sacrifices might need to be made to make ends meet.
The MPC has kept interest rates low, despite rising inflation, to support jobs in the economy. I make no apologies for that. But, equally, the MPC needs to keep an eye, and to keep a lid, on sharp rises in the cost of living given their damaging effects on society, especially for those on lower incomes. Indeed, that is precisely why the government has set the Bank an inflation target of 2%.
I would like to thank all of those who took part in the first Town hall visit. We will make refinements to the format as we go along, but this first one went about as well as we could have hoped. The messages from it will feed back to the Bank and more widely. This is part of an on-going programme, an on-going relationship, between the Bank and these wider communities. The Town halls are neither one-way nor one-off.
It would be remiss not to also thank the Bank team for helping make this so successful a visit, including the Bank’s Agents for Wales Steve Hicks and Ian Derrick.
The next Town hall visit is taking place in Leicester in early-August, where we are partnering with the Muslim Council of Britain. I can’t wait.