Warning: Britain faces new recession

Economy set to relapse into dreaded 'double-dip' downturn, say world's central bankers

The world's central bankers have warned that the British economy faces relapsing into another recession – the much-feared "double dip" downturn.

A continuing drought in bank lending, evidenced in the latest figures from the Bank of England, and the threat that spiralling public borrowing will feed through to higher interest rates and inflation, are judged by international economists to be mortal dangers to a sustained recovery.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which comprises the 30 most advanced economies in the world, added to the gloom, saying that Britain remained "deep" in recession and faced a "bleak short-term outlook".

"The recovery is likely to be slow and unemployment is expected to climb significantly," it said, adding that the Treasury could do "considerably more" to fix the public finances.

Both warnings are at odds with recent market optimism and so-called green shoots suggesting that output in the economy may be recovering. But the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which includes the Bank of England, the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, said it feared that the problems of the world's banks are far from fixed and could easily trigger a so-called "double dip" or "W-shaped" downturn. "A major cause for concern is the limited progress in addressing the underlying problems in the financial sector," it said.

"A significant risk is therefore that the current stimulus will lead only to a temporary pick-up in growth, followed by protracted stagnation."

The BIS cautioned that "governments may not have acted quickly enough to remove problem assets from the balance sheets of key banks". It added that financial products should be treated like medicines and sold to consumers only when they are certified safe, to help prevent a repeat of last year's financial meltdown.

Figures from the Bank of England yesterday confirmed that the banks and building societies remain reluctant to lend to any but the most secure of businesses and home buyers. Mortgage approvals barely improved during May, remaining stuck at a little over 43,000 – some way above the nadir of 27,000 last winter, but under half of their normal level. Analysts at Capital Economics said the figures were "consistent with house prices falling at double-digit annual rates".

Detailed data on changes to the money supply indicated that relatively little of the £100bn pumped into the economy by the Bank of England through its policy of "quantitative easing", akin to "printing money", is finding its way as yet into meaningful lending by the banks to small businesses and first-time buyers.

A small improvement in consumer confidence was registered last month, and there is plenty of evidence of more buyer interest at estate agents and of shoppers continuing to shop. However, for as long as the banking system remains reliant on public funding and unwilling to offer credit, little of this still-fragile optimism will be seen in hard purchases of "big ticket" items such as houses, cars and other goods linked to house purchase, such as electrical appliances and furniture.

Figures to be released by the Office for National Statistics are likely to reveal that the downturn in the UK in the first quarter of the year was even more severe than first thought, though most economists think the worst of the slump is over. A CBI survey published yesterday said more than 95 per cent of banks and building societies expected their bad debts to rise over the next few months. Such write-offs will join the existing "toxic assets" on the banks' balance sheets and make them even less willing to take on riskier lending – the much feared "negative feedback loop".

Most embarrassing for ministers is the OECD's "health check" on important public services. The OECD agreed that, since Labour came to power in 1997, health spending has "surged" but "the returns so far appear modest". Ironically, given official enthusiasm for "league tables", the OECD says the UK's economic future is endangered by the inequality of educational achievement – a factor which has left the UK towards the bottom of the league table of advanced economies for social mobility: "International standardised tests show that the UK lags better performing countries significantly."

However, the OECD supports the shift away from targeting: "The focus on raising the school leaving age and meeting performance targets in education may still be distracting attention from the more important goal of raising core literacy and numeracy achievement." It adds: "Adequate provision of public infrastructure should be a priority, particularly in transport where road and airport congestion, and problems in the rail system impede business and constrain productivity."

Ministers have cancelled this year's Comprehensive Spending Review on the grounds that the economic picture is too uncertain and that, after a general election, "tough choices" may become easier to implement. Still, the OECD said it wanted "explicit" detail on spending cuts and tax rises, adding: "Experience in other countries suggests that a focus on expenditure cuts, rather than revenue raising, is associated with more successful consolidations." At the moment, the OECD claims, the Government is not being "ambitious" enough.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower