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

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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.