The Great Divide – Bank-Industry Relations in the UK in Historical Perspective


Together with my colleagues Anna Tilba, Emily Buchnea, John Wilson (University of Newcastle), and Philipp Kern (KCL), we are working on an exciting project on board interlocks among British companies. We have collected a dataset that contains all directors of the 250 largest companies for nine points in time throughout the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. This data set allows us to trace the evolution of the British corporate network over a long period of time.

Our main interest at this stage is in investigating whether the structure of the network and the ties (or absence therefore) between industrial companies and British banks may help explain why Britain traditionally faced a situation where banks were reluctant to lend to non-financial companies.

This problem has recently become part of the public discourse in relation with the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/8. Indeed, the coalition government of the time had launched the so-called ‘Project Merlin’ whereby the government sought the commitment of banks to lend on to businesses the cheap money they could obtain from the BoE due to the low interest rates.

However, ‘Project Merlin’ is by no means the only example of political pressure on banks to lend more to British industry. The issue has indeed been taken up by various official committees and has led to several reports throughout the 20th century. Our project aims – among other things – to investigate the impact that the interlocking directorates may have on this phenomenon.

Based on this data set, John and I have already published a chapter in the book below: