More bad news in the latest numbers

Hours worked are down, the claimant count is up, fewer jobs are going and labour output is down.

Three more important data releases today put further nails in Osborne's economic coffin. The big news of the day was the ONS release of data on the labour market, which showed that all of the good news we had seen over earlier months this year has now gone into reverse.

First, the number of unemployed on the ILO count increased by 38,000 over the quarter to reach 2.49 million and the unemployment rate rose to 7.9 per cent.

Second, the claimant count in July 2011 was 1.56 million, up 37,100 on the previous month and up 98,600 on a year earlier.

Third, the unemployment rate for 16-to-24-year-olds was 20.2 per cent in the three months to June 2011, up 0.2 percentage points from the three months to March 2011.

There were 949,000 unemployed 16-to-24-year-olds in the three months to June 2011, up 15,000 from the three months to March 2011.

Fourth, though total employment is up on the year by 250,000, the total number of hours worked, which is a better measure of the labour input, was 910.6 million in the three months to June 2011, down 11.3 million from the three months to March 2011 and down by seven million from April-June 2010 when this government took office.

Fifth, in the three months to June 2011, 154,000 people had been made redundant, up 32,000 from the three months to March 2011 and up 4,000 from a year earlier.

Sixth, the number of job vacancies in the three months to July 2011 was down 22,000 on the three months to April 2011 and down 28,000 on a year earlier.

Seventh, regular pay growth remained benign at 2.2 per cent.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, commented:

Survey data indicates that unemployment is likely to continue to rise in coming months, as private-sector employers fail to make up for public-sector job cuts. The Markit/CIPS PMI survey showed companies reducing their headcounts in July due to concerns over the economic outlook and recruitment firms reported that the number of people they had placed in permanent jobs had risen at a rate only marginally higher than June's near two-year low. This tallies with official data showing that the number of job vacancies fell to the lowest in almost two years. Business confidence clearly needs to rise before employment growth will pick up again but, at the moment, the surveys suggest that companies remain worried about economic growth both at home and abroad and are generally erring towards cost-cutting rather than expansion.

None of this is good news.

Then there was the release of the Bank of England's agents' report on the economy, which suggested little evidence of growth in the economy. They reported evidence of weak growth in spending on consumer goods and services. The agents' score for growth in goods exports had fallen back somewhat from recent highs and a slowing in the pace of growth of manufacturing output, reflecting softening domestic demand.

Finally, the minutes of the August MPC meeting showed a vote of 9-0 for no change, which meant that the two inflation nutters Spencer Dale and Martin Weale had seen the error of their ways and reversed their wrongheaded votes for rate rises. Once again, my friend Adam Posen voted for more QE.

This paragraph is especially telling, suggesting the risks to the downside have increased:

The key risk to the downside remained that demand growth would not be sufficiently strong to absorb the pool of spare capacity in the economy, causing inflation to fall materially below target in the medium term. News over the month had generally reinforced the weak tone of indicators of global activity growth over the past few months, which had been particularly notable in data releases for the advanced economies. While some of the slowing would have reflected the impact of continuing disruption to global supply chains and the effects of the elevated price of oil, the committee judged it increasingly likely that the global slowdown would prove to be more prolonged than previously assumed.

Far from being vindicated, the data is giving Osborne and his failed economic strategy a deserved comeuppance. There has been zero positive news on the economic data front for some time now.

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

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.