THE pandemic and its effect on the economy was first and foremost in the minds of North East Shadow MPC members when they voted unanimously to hold interest rates.

The MPC is a partnership between The Northern Echo and Clive Owen LLP, which considers the state of the region’s economy and gives experts from a variety of sectors the opportunity to argue their case for a shift, or hold, in the rate.

Gary Ellis, partner at Clive Owen LLP, said: “I can’t see any other option but to hold interest rates as they are. The current economic climate is fragile and too many smaller/medium sized businesses are relying on furlough support for their staff. There are difficulties ahead post Budget and the potential of ending of furlough support at the end of April, which the Chancellor is unlikely to extend.”

Jonathan Willett, director at AON, said: “I vote for the interest rate to remain as it is due to the uncertainty of the economy in these troubled economic times.”

David Coates, managing director of Newsquest North East, said: “I’d vote to hold rates. No compelling justification for increasing rates at a time when there is so much uncertainty about the Covid situation, with new virus mutations making the whole situation even harder to deal with. This could lead to an extension of the current lockdown and, while I am concerned that inflation may be just around the corner, there’s no point in making a difficult situation for the economy worse.”

Paul Gibson, director and chartered financial planner at Active Chartered Financial Planners, said: “I would vote a hold on interest rates at this time. We are still in the middle of a pandemic and although the vaccine news is a positive one there is still a long way to go. Talks of negative interest rates in the future continue to gather momentum, however it is not yet the time to take this action to try and boost the economy. Negative interest rates would further cut the margins for commercial banks at a time when loans and financial support are needed most.”

Jonathan Lamb, chief executive of Entrepreneurs’ Forum, said: “I’d hold. No real sign of inflation to combat and precarious consumer confidence needs supporting.”

Daniel Williams, solicitor at Latimer Hinks, said: “I vote to keep the interest rate the same due to utter unpredictability.”