Let's help Dave get his facts straight

Two more thoughts following yesterday's awful joblessness figures.

A couple of points. Some have claimed that the UK private sector created half a million jobs over the past 12 months -- including, apparently, the Prime Minister at PMQs yesterday.

So let's help Dave get his facts straight. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) only provides data on employment in the public and private sector every three months and the latest data is only available up until June 2011. Over the 12 months to June 2011, private-sector employment grew by 264,000, while public-sector employment fell by 240,000.

Notably, the ONS also produces estimates of what happened to employment since then. Over the three month period between June and August 2011, employment fell by a further 178,000. It will be interesting to see the mix between public- and private-sector job losses in due course. This coalition is destroying jobs, not creating them.

Second, my friend Adam Posen set out very clearly in his recent speech the arguments for assisting small and medium-size businesses in obtaining lending. I am pleased that the Chancellor is looking into possible ways that the Treasury can implement this plan. The concern is that little preparation has been done, which means that any scheme is likely to take a really long time to have any impact. The big rise in unemployment announced yesterday makes this all the more urgent.

Data reported by the European Commission this week suggests that the situation in the UK is much more serious than in almost any other country in Europe. The table below shows how the proportion of unsuccessful loan applications by SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) has changed over time. Loan denials have risen in every country with the economic crisis.

 

A scary thought: the proportion of loan denials is especially high in the UK, and higher than in all other major western countries other than the Netherlands. The concern is that this Chancellor, once again, is doing too little, too late.

So, when will loans to SMEs start to improve? My suspicion is not for a very long time and this will slow growth further.

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

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

How will Theresa May meet her commitment to low-earners?

The Prime Minister will soon need to translate generalities into specifics. 

The curtailed Conservative leadership contest (which would not have finished yet) meant that Theresa May had little chance to define her agenda. But of the statements she has made since becoming prime minister, the most notable remains her commitment to lead a government "driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours." 

When parliament returns on 5 September, and the autumn political season begins, May will need to translate this generality into specifics. The defining opportunity to do so will be the Autumn Statement. Originally intended by George Osborne to be a banal update of economic forecasts, this set-piece more often resembled a second Budget. Following the momentous Brexit vote, it certainly will under Philip Hammond. 

The first priority will be to demonstrate how the government will counter the threat of recession. Osborne's target of a budget surplus by 2020 has wisely been abandoned, granting the new Chancellor the freedom to invest more in infrastructure (though insiders make it clear not to expect a Keynesian splurge).

As well as stimulating growth, Hammond will need to reflect May's commitment to those "just managing" rather than the "privileged few". In her speech upon becoming prime minister, she vowed that "when it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you". A natural means of doing so would be to reduce VAT, which was increased to a record high of 20 per cent in 2010 and hits low-earners hardest. Others will look for the freeze on benefit increases to be lifted (with inflation forecast to rise to 3 per cent next year). May's team are keenly aware of the regressive effect of loose monetary policy (low interest rates and quantitative easing), which benefits wealthy asset-owners, and vow that those who lose out will be "compensated" elsewhere. 

A notable intervention has come from Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chair of the Treasury select committee. He has called for the government to revive the publication of distributional analyses following Budgets and Autumn Statements, which was ended by George Osborne last year (having been introduced by the coalition in 2010). 

In a letter to Hammond, Tyrie wrote: "I would be grateful for an assurance that you will reinstate the distributional analysis of the effects of the budget and autumn statement measures on household incomes, recently and mistakenly discontinued by your predecessor." He added: "The new prime minister is committing her government to making Britain a country that works 'not for a privileged few, but for every one of us'. A high level of transparency about the effects of tax and welfare policy on households across the income distribution would seem to be a logical, perhaps essential starting point." 

Whether the government meets this demand will be an early test of how explicit it intends to be in reducing disparities. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.