UK construction contracts for third month running

Sector posts continued decline.

The UK construction PMI, released today, indicates moderate contraction in that sector for the third month in a row. The rate of contraction (represented by an index of 48.7, where 50 means no change) was unchanged from December.

 

Commenting on the report, David Noble, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply which co-publishes the report with Markit economics, said:

Snow compounded difficult economic conditions to ensure the construction sector’s winter blues continued into January. Yet against expectations, businesses have a spring in their step looking ahead to 2013. This new-found confidence has been buoyed by news of public investment, but it could be found wanting, if the Government’s recent rhetoric on major infrastructure projects fails to bear fruit.

The construction sector is a relatively small section of the UK's overall output, but a key enabler of growth in other sectors. Its continued depression will likely have second-order effects, acting as a dampener on the rate of expansion in the more economically crucial sectors like services and manufacturing.

Additionally, the report highlights the continued contraction in housing construction as one of the drivers of the sector's weakness. With housebuilding a perennial political issue, the news indicates that measures to prop it up are yet to have the desired impact — although, with the rate of contraction slowing somewhat, the news is not as dire as it could have been.

Construction, as she is played. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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