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Inflation surge and labour market boom may spur UK rate hike, warns economist

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The Bank of England’s chief economist has warned that the UK’s buoyant labour market and rapidly rising inflation is pushing the central bank closer to raising rates at its next meeting in December.

Huw Pill said the “burden of proof” was now in favour of increasing the cost of borrowing, though he said a rate rise would not be a quick fix that could bring down inflation in the short term.

Pill, who joined the Bank in the autumn from the investment bank Goldman Sachs, added that there were still many uncertain trends in the economy and he was prepared to wait for the picture to clear before making a decision.

View image in fullscreenHuw Pill, chief economist at the BoE, pictured in 2015. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Speaking at an economics conference in Bristol, Pill also hinted he could vote for a larger increase than financial markets expected, saying he was open to other options.

“That reflects a genuine uncertainty at a personal level; that I will want to see how I will assess the situation,” he said, adding that rates could go up by another amount.

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While it would be convenient to raise rates to a multiple of 0.25%, there was no urgency to do so if a different scale of tightening proved appropriate, he added.

Pill said it had been a “pretty uncomfortable time” to join the BoE in September, when inflation was already well above its 2% target and forecast to reach about 5% next year.

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“There’s no quick fix, and that lack of a quick fix means some patience will be required,” Pill told the conference hosted by the Economics Observatory and the Festival of Economics.

Investors expect the BoE to raise rates from 0.1% to 0.25% at its next meeting on 16 December. At a meeting earlier this month the nine-strong monetary policy committee disappointed markets by leaving rates on hold, despite comments by the Bank governor, Andrew Bailey, that it was poised to take “action” to calm inflation.

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Since then, inflation has risen to a 10-year high of 4.2% with jobless data showing unemployment actually falling after the end of the furlough scheme.

Pill is understood to be among a majority of BoE policymakers who fear most workers will be emboldened to demand inflation-busting pay rises to compensate for higher prices, triggering a wage-price spiral.

He said concerns that the labour market would weaken and unemployment rise had proved unfounded. “The burden of proof is perhaps a little bit in the other direction … so now I’m looking perhaps for reasons not to hike rates,” he said.