GDP figures offer little relief for Osborne

Growth of 0.5 per cent in Q3 was less than half of what Osborne needed to meet the OBR's forecasts.

The number crunchers at the ONS have just announced that the economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the third quarter, a better-than-expected figure but still a sluggish one. In the last 12 months, the economy has grown by just 0.5 (-0.5 per cent in Q4, 0.4 per cent in Q1, 0.1 per cent in Q2 and 0.5 per cent in Q3) and Osborne has no hope of meeting the OBR's forecast for 2011 growth (1.7 per cent), with deleterious consequences for his borrowing targets. Over the same period, the US grew by 1.6 per cent. Britain is still in the growth slow lane.

In political terms, today's figures will change little. George Osborne will continue to stand by his deficit reduction plan and Labour will (rightly) continue to argue that the government is cutting "too far, too fast". In the last year, 240,000 public-sector jobs have been lost and 264,000 private-sector jobs have been created, a net increase of just 24,000. Worse, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has predicted that 610,000 public-sector jobs will be lost by 2016, 210,000 more than forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Attention will now move swiftly to 29 November and the Chancellor's autumn statement (the equivalent of the old pre-Budget report). In some respects, the government has already adopted a plan B in the form of credit easing, accelerated deregulation and more quantitative easing by the Bank of England (described by Osborne in 2009 as "the last resort of desperate governments when all other policies have failed"). The question remains whether it will change course again by temporarily slowing the cuts or offering further fiscal stimulus (a plan C, if you like). Today's figure was not bad enough to force a change of direction but nor was it good enough to offer any hope that Osborne will meet his deficit reduction targets. The government has already been forced to announce £44.5bn of extra borrowing due to lower growth and higher unemployment. Expect Osborne to announce billions more when he delivers his statement later this month.

And there's every reason to fear that the fourth quarter will be worse. The most recent Bank of England minutes revealed that the Monetary Policy Committee believes growth will be close to zero in the final three months of the year. But so managed have our expectations become that some growth, any growth will be welcomed.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The government needs more on airports than just Chris Grayling's hunch

This disastrous plan to expand Heathrow will fail, vows Tom Brake. 

I ought to stop being surprised by Theresa May’s decision making. After all, in her short time as Prime Minister she has made a series of terrible decisions. First, we had Chief Buffoon, Boris Johnson appointed as Foreign Secretary to represent the United Kingdom around the world. Then May, announced full steam ahead with the most extreme version of Brexit, causing mass economic uncertainty before we’ve even begun negotiations with the EU. And now we have the announcement that expansion of Heathrow Airport, in the form of a third runway, will go ahead: a colossally expensive, environmentally disastrous, and ill-advised decision.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, I asked Transport Secretary Chris Grayling why the government is “disregarding widespread hostility and bulldozing through a third runway, which will inflict crippling noise, significant climate change effects, health-damaging air pollution and catastrophic congestion on a million Londoners.” His response was nothing more than “because we don’t believe it’s going to do those things.”

I find this astonishing. It appears that the government is proceeding with a multi-billion pound project with Grayling’s beliefs as evidence. Why does the government believe that a country of our size should focus on one major airport in an already overcrowded South East? Germany has multiple major airports, Spain three, the French, Italians, and Japanese have at least two. And I find it astonishing that the government is paying such little heed to our legal and moral environmental obligations.

One of my first acts as an MP nineteen years ago was to set out the Liberal Democrat opposition to the expansion of Heathrow or any airport in southeast England. The United Kingdom has a huge imbalance between the London and the South East, and the rest of the country. This imbalance is a serious issue which our government must get to work remedying. Unfortunately, the expansion of Heathrow does just the opposite - it further concentrates government spending and private investment on this overcrowded corner of the country.

Transport for London estimates that to make the necessary upgrades to transport links around Heathrow will be £10-£20 billion pounds. Heathrow airport is reportedly willing to pay only £1billion of those costs. Without upgrades to the Tube and rail links, the impact on London’s already clogged roads will be substantial. Any diversion of investment from improving TfL’s wider network to lines serving Heathrow would be catastrophic for the capital. And it will not be welcomed by Londoners who already face a daily ordeal of crowded tubes and traffic-delayed buses. In the unlikely event that the government agrees to fund this shortfall, this would be salt in the wound for the South-West, the North, and other parts of the country already deprived of funding for improved rail and road links.

Increased congestion in the capital will not only raise the collective blood pressure of Londoners, but will have severe detrimental effects on our already dire levels of air pollution. During each of the last ten years, air pollution levels have been breached at multiple sites around Heathrow. While a large proportion of this air pollution is caused by surface transport serving Heathrow, a third more planes arriving and departing adds yet more particulates to the air. Even without expansion, it is imperative that we work out how to clean this toxic air. Barrelling ahead without doing so is irresponsible, doing nothing but harm our planet and shorten the lives of those living in west London.

We need an innovative, forward-looking strategy. We need to make transferring to a train to Cardiff after a flight from Dubai as straightforward and simple as transferring to another flight is now. We need to invest in better rail links so travelling by train to the centre of Glasgow or Edinburgh is quicker than flying. Expanding Heathrow means missing our climate change targets is a certainty; it makes life a misery for those who live around the airport and it diverts precious Government spending from other more worthy projects.

The Prime Minister would be wise to heed her own advice to the 2008 government and “recognise widespread hostility to Heathrow expansion.” The decision to build a third runway at Heathrow is the wrong one and if she refuses to U-turn she will soon discover the true extent of the opposition to these plans.

Tom Brake is the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton & Wallington.