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All right, the Treasury hasn’t really changed its name – but it might as well have, after the joy that greated this week’s meagre growth figures.
The Office for National Statistics is reporting growth in construction, manufacturing, services and agriculture in an estimate based on 44 per cent of actual data on economic activity during the second quarter of 2013 (April-June). That’s less than half of the evidence.
We live in times when the whole of the evidence means a great deal – for example, information on Q1 of 2012 that put growth at a standstill – neither up nor down – meant the UK did not enter a double-dip recession, even though the economy contracted in the periods immediately before and after. In real terms we were backtracking – but on paper, no.
Let’s remember, also, that the organisations that record our economic fortunes are liable to revise their predictions down as well as up – remember when the Office of Budget Irresponsibility changed its mind about the growth figures for 2012? It had predicted growth of 2.5 per cent for that year. In fact, once we iron out the ups and downs, the economy really only bumped along at a roughly steady state.
The International Monetary Fund had predicted a more conservative 1.6 per cent growth for 2012 – but in January of that year revised this down to 0.6 per cent. You get the picture.
The 0.6 per cent figure was in line with market expectations, though – and that is a good sign. But 0.6 per cent is a very fragile figure and the prospects for the rest of the year are “highly uncertain”, as market analyst Richard Driver said in the BBC News website’s report.
We all knew that the economy would start turning upwards again at some point. That it has taken five years to do so indicates the severity of the banker-induced crash – and also the lack of any investment in recovery.
In the past, the upturns arrived comparatively swiftly – but there had been a willingness on the part of both government and businesses to put money into it. The current government has been sucking money out of the economy in the pursuit of
Gideon‘s nonsensical “expansionary fiscal contraction” and getting the deficit down – meaning that all the effort has been put into cutting spending and none into actually making a buck or two. Meanwhile, it has been estimated that businesses have been sitting on fortunes totalling six or seven per cent of GDP – around £775 billion, according to Michael Meacher.
In his blog, Mr Meacher said he expected the announcement to be “milked by Cameron-Osborne for all it’s worth” and he was not to be disappointed.
“These figures are better than forecast,” said Osborne in the BBC report – claiming credit for something that had nothing to do with him. “Britain is holding its nerve, we are sticking to our plan, and the British economy is on the mend – but there is still a long way to go.”
What will he say if a later revision knocks the figure down again?
Mr Meacher’s blog stated that the growth figures had been inflated “by being talked up by the finance sector”, and stimulated by Osborne’s Help to Buy scheme “which has ploughed taxpayers’ money into mortgages but without increasing the number of houses being built, which can only push up property prices… igniting yet another housing bubble which is the last thing the economy needs”.
He added that the real essentials of recovery are still missing – “an expansion of manufacturing and exports”.
We may have to wait for another government before that happens; the Coalition is too busy exploiting our current economic fragility as an excuse to sell off the family silver – those parts of the NHS it thinks nobody will notice, the Royal Mail, school playing fields, student loans…
I could mention ‘Starve the Beast’ again – but by now you should be on intimate terms with that expression.
(The first Vox Political collection, Strong Words and Hard Times, is now available and may be ordered from this website)