LONDON (Reuters) - The Bank of England was asked to consider moving the gold bars out of its vaults so that space could be rented to a pub, during its first hearing before a parliament spending watchdog.
Members of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee had seized on a report by government auditors, which criticised the BoE for having more than 800 empty desks at its historic Threadneedle Street home in London’s main financial district.
“If you’re making it easier for staff to work ... at home, would there be any thought to renting out aspects of Threadneedle? Would we see a Wetherspoon’s?” committee chair Meg Hillier asked, referring to the popular chain of pubs known for refurbishing abandonned high steet premises such as banks.
But Bradley Fried, the chair of the BoE’s Court of Directors, pointed out a hitch in Hillier’s plan.
“Threadneedle Street is a little bit unique, in that we are sitting on top of what is literally 140 billion pounds ($180 billion) worth of physical gold, actual physical gold,” he said.
A pub or other commercial tenant would create a security risk, he added.
Undeterred, Hillier suggested moving the gold from its high-security vaults to a cheaper location, “to maximise income from Threadneedle Street”.
Fried, a former chief executive of Investec Bank, said the BoE was taking the more cost-effective approach of moving some staff at another nearby office to Threadneedle Street, which might allow the other building to be partly leased out instead.
($1 = 0.7757 pounds)
Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Toby Chopra