Triple dip remains successfully avoided in GDP second estimate

Stagnation continues, writes Alex Hern.

The second estimates of GDP growth in 2013 is out, and it is unrevised at 0.3 per cent; the triple dip remains successfully avoided. On top of that, the senior economic advisor to Ernst and Young's ITEM club, Andrew Goodwin, argues that:

It still looks as if Q2 growth will be firm and possibly even stronger than Q1. The monthly data shows service sector output 0.5% above the Q1 average in March and with the production and construction data showing similar trends, this provides a solid springboard for Q2 GDP. Indeed, activity would have to fall back significantly through the quarter to generate a weaker outturn than Q1.

Source: ONS

Even while positive information is coming out about the likely prospects of this current quarter, the picture which is being drawn about the last quarter is getting gloomier. It's becoming clear that the quarter was positive largely due to a contribution from stockbuilding – businesses overproducing in order to build up their reserves. There was little rise in consumer spending, and investment and net exports actually fell.

But a warning. That fact doesn't mean that we were "really" in a recession, any more than the fact that the 2012 double-dip was largely due to declining oil and gas revenues means that that doesn't "really" exist.

Britain has been hovering between positive and negative growth for over a year now. That inevitably means that there will be seemingly-important distinctions which come down to a mere statistical fluke. But that's not a bug of the system, it's a feature: what it tells us its that we aren't in recession or growth, but stuck in that zone we call stagnation. That's been true for too long, and today's figures show no change there. (And yes, you have heard me banging this drum before). As Goodwin concludes:

We are still optimistic that the momentum will build, but this data reinforces the idea that this recovery is going to be a long, hard, slog.

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.

Photo: Getty
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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.