Growth figures mean nothing if you live in part of the country that's not growing

Rather than hyperbole over a national growth figure, we need regionalised figures to show how prosperity is unevenly spread.

The politics of the quarterly growth figures underpin a narrative that either says "things are getting better, "we were right", or "things are getting worse, you were wrong", depending on whether you’re George Osborne of Ed Balls. So this morning’s announcement that growth in the last quarter of 2013 was 0.7 per cent - with growth estimated at 1.9 per cent overall last year - allows the Chancellor to crow that there is "more evidence that our long-term economic plan is working."

But this is an aggregated national figure which disguises what is happening around the country. We only have to look at Monday’s report from the Centre for Cities think tank to see that not every part of the UK is jumping for joy. It exposes a massive, jaw-dropping imbalance in the economy, with London accounting for four out of every five jobs created in the private sector from 2010-12.

So rather than hyperbole over a national growth figure, we instead need regionalised figures to show how prosperity is unevenly spread. And we need the debate about the economy refocused around how we narrow these fluctuations. Instead of London and the south east booming and parts of the rest of the country being left in the deep freeze, we need to see London’s over-heated economy cooled and our regional economies thawed.

This is essential if One Nation politics is to mean anything. London is buoyed on a sea of public cash, with everything from civil service jobs through to public transport subsidies locking-in massive regional economic inequalities. The Centre for Cities report shows that not only is London dominating private sector jobs growth, but public sector employment too. While Birmingham lost 9,300 public sector jobs between 2010-12, London actually gained 66,300.

These advantages need to levelled-out to spread wealth and opportunity further, helping the national economy work better and become less reliant on London, but also making London’s economy more rational in the process. Indeed, with house prices in the capital now soaring, ordinary Londoners would benefit from some economic rebalancing. In the 12 months to November 2012, London’s property prices rose, on average, by 11.6 per cent. In contrast, they rose by just 0.6 per cent in the north west.

We did have regional economic strategies in place until this government scrapped the regional development agencies in 2010. This time, however, the task of narrowing economic disparities needs to sit at the heart of Treasury policy-making. Every lever of policy should be looking to release opportunity across the UK, utilising underused capacity across the country and spreading prosperity, particularly in terms of private sector investment, as widely as possible.

Rather than government and opposition pouncing on quarterly growth figures as evidence for their conflicting accounts of the state of the economy, it would be far better to have a regionalised breakdown so that we can start to have an honest, evidence-based discussion about the state of the real economy.

A man walks past boarded up shops in Bristol. Photograph: Getty Images.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office. 

Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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