By John Beverly, the Bank’s Agent for the West Midlands.
The Bank’s regional representation, which has evolved into the current network of Agencies, began when the first Branches were established in 1826–28 to deal with problems caused by the failure of local banknote-issuing banks. The network of Branches grew and changed during the nineteenth century, but their basic responsibilities were still to provide a banking and banknote distribution service in their areas. An Agent and a Sub-Agent, men of private means with position and influence in the local business community, were appointed by the Governors and Directors to liaise with local industry and commerce on the Bank’s behalf within each Branch area. From early in the twentieth century, Agents and Sub-Agents were drawn from Bank staff. From 1930 onwards, the Agents were required to send Head Office reports drawn from local industrial and commercial contacts. In recent years these reports and the use to which they are put have developed considerably. The Wilson Committee Report of 1980 led, inter alia, to the establishment of the Bank’s Industrial Finance Division (now called the Business Finance Division), which was given specific responsibility for the Bank’s industrial liaison activities, including those of the Branches. When the Bank was restructured in 1994, the industrial liaison work was integrated with the Monetary Analysis Divisions of the Bank.
During the 1980s the Glasgow Office and the Liverpool and Southampton Branches were closed, but in each place an Agent and a small team were left in place to continuethe industrial liaison work. After a thorough review of the Bank’s regional coverage in 1995–96, it was decided to terminate banking in the remaining five Branches— Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle— and to concentrate banknote distribution from London (Head Office and the Printing Works in Debden, Essex) and Leeds. The closure of the Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Newcastle Branches was completed at the end of October 1997; each has been replaced with an Agency. Leeds is also now an Agency, with banknote business run as an entirely separate operation.