Osborne's policies threaten Britain's AAA rating

Moody's warning proves that Britain isn't out of the danger zone.

So now Moody's has got in on the game. Today, it reiterated its warning that the UK could shortly lose its AAA credit rating because Osborne's policies are failing. The pound fell by more than half a cent on the news. Specifically, this was because growth is failing and this hopeless coalition government looks unlikely to hit its deficit reduction targets. As a result of the lack of growth in the economy, this week, Slasher has admitted that he is going to have to allow the automatic stabilisers to kick in to prevent the economy dropping off a cliff. Oh, dear. And all of that in the week when Cameron announced more U-turns on the NHS and prison reform. Three U-turns in a week is rather a lot.

So much for Osborne's claim, a couple of weeks ago, in his speech to the Institute of Directors on 11 May that: "Our credit rating has come off negative outlook ­ when other countries are facing downgrades. We have brought much-needed stability at home and attracted near universal confidence abroad." Looks like that confidence is slipping as each hour passes. Yesterday, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, fired a shot across Slasher's bow when he warned that cutting fiscally too quickly was "self-defeating" and that uneven recoveries are likely to require further stimulus. "Establishing a credible plan for reducing future deficits now would not only enhance economic performance in the long run but could also yield near-term benefits by leading to lower long-term interest rates. On the other hand, "A sharp fiscal consolidation focused on the very near term could be self-defeating." That is how it is looking in the UK. It is interesting that the US has restored the GDP that was lost in the recession and is growing, albeit slowly, while the UK is stagnating and likely needs more stimulus than the US does.

Plus, plans for the new Financial Services Committee also look to be in disarray as the Treasury select committee expressed concern this week about the lack of independence of its members and has called for more external members. Alistair Clark, who worked for years at Mervyn King's side, hardly seems independent. Giving all that power to the Bank means that Mervyn is likely to dominate just as he did with the MPC -- and look what a mess groupthink got us into in 2008. The ex-MPC members Sushil Wadhwani and Willem Buiter also expressed their opposition on giving the Bank of England more powers. Osborne's plans for financial stability are in a mess, along with lots of other policies this government has failed to think through. Plus, banks are still not lending, as Vince Cable made clear today. Maybe one day this government will do something about it!

There was also some more worrying economic news on jobs and retail sales. The latest KPMG/REC report on jobs showed weaker increases in both permanent placements and temp billings. The growth of overall job vacancies eased to a five-month low and there was the lowest rise in permanent staff salaries for three months. Commenting on the results, Bernard Brown, partner and head of business services at KPMG, said: "The latest figures are worrying -­ because they reveal a marked slowdown of the UK jobs market. We'll need to see whether this is a trend or a blip. Employers across all sectors are becoming more cautious about hiring new staff. With businesses and consumers now being hit by higher taxes and fuel costs, public-spending cuts and a continuing squeeze on real incomes -­ this is perhaps no surprise." Too right.

May's BRC retail sales monitor suggests that the underlying strength of the consumer recovery is exceptionally weak. The annual growth rate of like-for-like sales values fell to minus 2.1 per cent, down from the 5.2 per cent growth seen in April. April's figures were boosted by the later timing of Easter this year and the royal wedding, so a sharp drop was always on the cards. But Capital Economics has pointed out that May's survey was particularly weak and, excluding past months, which were adversely affected by the timing of Easter, "This was the weakest reading since December 2008." Before too long, Osborne may have to take the IMF's advice and cut taxes. How about now?

I couldn't let David Smith's ridiculous and out-of-touch column in the Sunday Times over the weekend calling for a rise in the exchange rate to pass unnoticed. He claimed: "The main reason we need a stronger pound is to help control inflation and limit the extent that interest rates will need to rise to do so." Honestly, I don't know what planet this guy is on, as that is absolutely the last thing the British economy needs, given that we have had zero growth over the past six months and austerity has yet to hit. Second, we don't have an inflation problem: we potentially have a problem of deflation, as the MPC has made clear once the transitory effects of VAT, commodity and oil prices and the fall in the exchange rate drop out. Indeed, it would be even clearer that we were faced with the possibility of deflation if falling house prices were included in the CPI. Any attempt to raise rates now would decimate growth further. Smith has been on the wrong side of almost every economic issue throughout this recession and, of course, failed to spot it in the first place.

The UK demonstrably does not need a stronger pound right now. A depreciated currency has provided a welcome stimulus to the economy and any appreciation now would be bad for employment and growth. I guess Smith hasn't noticed that the pound has appreciated strongly over the past 12 months (from $1.45 to approx $1.65) since the Fed did more competitive QE and the MPC, wrongly, did not respond by doing more QE, too. Smith chortled that the Institute of Economic Affairs' shadow MPC shamelessly promotes and supports him. Personally I couldn't care less that six third-rate, right-wing hacks agreed with Smith and voted for a rate rise. They have zero credibility and should be ignored: as the MPC ­- minus "Death" Sentance -- fortunately will do this week. As the IMF made quite clear, a rate hike now would put Slasher in trouble. On second thoughts, maybe they should raise rates . . .

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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The hidden crisis in the National Health Service

Hospitals are no longer safe places for their staff, warns Simon Danczuk.

It feels as though not a week can pass without the media warning of a fresh “crisis in the NHS”.

But while funding shortages and the impending junior doctor strike are rightly cause for concern, another major crisis is going largely unnoticed.

Figures show that 43 per cent of A&E staff have been physically assaulted at work. Every eight minutes there is some sort of violent incident in a UK hospital.

This is unacceptable, but unfortunately cases of violence against NHS workers seem to be on the increase while the government turns a blind eye to this problem of its own making.

Plotting a graph would show a startling correlation between insufficient NHS funding and the number of doctors and nurses being attacked. As NHS budgets reach breaking point, so too do many patients.

The issue, which will be highlighted in the documentary A&E: When Patients Attack, which airs tonight on Channel 5 at 10pm, is a national scandal.

Health experts suggest that the problem can be directly linked to longer waiting times and staff cutbacks, leading to growing frustration and tension in A&E and other departments. With winter fast approaching, and the notoriously busy festive season to come, incidents of violence look set to get worse. Nobody, least of all our overworked NHS doctors and nurses, should face the prospect of going to work to be attacked, spat at or insulted.

Based at the Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham, one of the country’s biggest hospitals, When Patients Attack follows a security team which uses uniformed guards and a bank of CCTV monitors to keep hospital staff safe.

The sight of a uniformed private security team in an NHS hospital is visually jarring, it would look more at home in a high-security prison than in a place of care and compassion. But the sad reality is, guards like this are a necessary part of the NHS under a Tory Government.

A&E centres across the UK, including the one in Rochdale, are being closed or consolidated creating extra journey times for patients and more pressure on those that remain.

But there is a gaping logical flaw here. NHS trusts are spending money, which should be on patient care, on employing security staff to deal with the fallout from cuts in care.

Seeing the level of physical, verbal and racial abuse that doctors and nurses have to endure makes When Patients Attack hard to watch at times. What is clear is that many of the patients featured are not lashing out for some malicious reason, they are vulnerable and bewildered people in need of care.

Many have learning difficulties or mental health problems, others are disorientated or in pain, there are those under the influence of drink or drugs and some just have nowhere else to go. A significant amount on the security team’s time seems to be spent convincing patients who have been discharged to leave the premises.

Here we see a less obvious example of how Conservative cuts are impacting on our NHS. Hospitals are always open and always welcoming. The duty of care means that no one is turned away. As a result, they are filling the void left by homelessness shelters and local government social services.

David Cameron has made much of the Government’s plan to put mental and physical health on an “equal footing”. But this will remain little more than empty rhetoric as long as those suffering from serious and complex mental health issues continue to seek help at A&E because of a lack of any alternative.

It is not just cuts to councils and the health service that have created this epidemic of NHS violence. In my constituency of Rochdale alone, Greater Manchester Police has been forced to withdraw 150 officers from the beat because of budget cuts. Business owners and members of the public have told me that Police response times have increased dramatically since 2010. It is important that violent incidents are diffused as quickly as possible and while an in-house security team is helpful, the additional support of trained Police officers is vital. Each additional minute that NHS staff have to wait for the Police increases the risk that a situation will escalate and become more serious.

Jeremy Hunt speaks of a seven-day-a-week NHS. But these grand plans ring hollow when we see the reality on the ground in the NHS today. This government cannot even guarantee that staff can work without the fear of physical harm. Our doctors and nurses are among the hardest working people in any community. The very least they can expect is to be able to care for us in a comfortable, supportive, and above all safe, environment.


Simon Danczuk is Labour MP for Rochdale