December 19, 2018 / 12:18 AM / in a month

Bank of England needs 'more cost-conscious culture' - watchdog

LONDON (Reuters) - The Bank of England has hundreds of empty desks, spends more than other public bodies on buildings and IT support and wastes money due to staff ignoring procurement rules, a public spending watchdog said on Wednesday.

Flowers in bloom are seen opposite the Bank of England, in London, Britain August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Calling for “a more cost-conscious culture” among back-office staff, Britain’s National Audit Office (NAO) said BoE spending on buildings and technology was over a third higher than the average for central government.

More than 800 desks typically sat empty at its historic headquarters in central London and human resources spending was also above average, reflecting a structure with more than 700 different job titles, the NAO said.

Staff ignored procurement rules for purchases of over 25,000 pounds ($31,673), wasting up to 200,000 pounds in 2017.

“The Bank needs to get a grip ... and make sure its systems and practices are fit for both today and the future,” lawmaker Meg Hillier, who chairs parliament’s public accounts committee, said.

Last week, Nicky Morgan, who chairs a parliamentary committee which monitors the BoE, criticised the “staggeringly high” expenses of some BoE policymakers.

In 2017 the BoE, which is operationally independent of government, said it would cap annual spending — excluding staff pensions and printing banknotes — at 476 million pounds, and limit staff numbers to 4,281.

Staff numbers at the BoE increased by 15 percent in the previous three years, as the BoE took on more responsibilities for financial regulation and focused on preparing for Brexit.

“As a result of a great deal of hard work and commitment from colleagues, we have held our budget flat for the current financial year and aim to do so in the medium term,” BoE chief operating officer Joanna Place said in reply to the NAO report.

The NAO report focused on ‘central services’ at the BoE such as human resources, technology support and buildings. Spending on central services was lower than at other central banks, the NAO said.

Reporting by David Milliken, editing by William Schomberg

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