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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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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