Leading article: Britain needs boldness, not more of the same



As MPs return to Westminster for a new parliamentary term, the Prime Minister and Chancellor will be hoping that a first major cabinet re-shuffle and a flurry of measures to boost economic growth will prove a sufficiently convincing fresh start after the Government's error-prone spring. Judging by past performance, however, the prognosis is not good.

The reshuffle, expected today, is unlikely to yield any significant changes. Between the usual internecine struggles and the extra complexities of coalition, the Cabinet's heavy-hitters are all set to remain in place; only second-tier posts, such as Culture or Transport, are up for grabs. David Cameron's decisions will be interesting for the extent to which he seeks to placate his increasingly obstreperous, right-leaning 2010 intake, but this will be no Night of the Long Knives.

The real challenge is, of course, economic growth. A profusion of confusing metrics tells of an economy bumping along the bottom and the two latest manufacturing surveys, both published yesterday, only add to the gloom. According to one, output is still shrinking despite an unexpected boost last month; the other shows British industry facing the toughest trading conditions for three years and expecting a 1.5 per cent contraction over 2012. Against such a backdrop, the pressure on the Government to act is becoming inescapable.

For more than 12 months, this newspaper has been calling for bold measures to stimulate growth. True, the deficit-reduction programme is a constraint on action, and the euro crisis is far outside the Chancellor's control. But George Osborne's hands are not entirely tied. He has, however, lacked either the focus or the courage to make real progress. Instead, he has only tinkered around the edges, introducing a series of limited, piecemeal initiatives, with very little effect.

What, then, of the latest proposals? First comes a plan to set up a state-backed bank focused on lending to small business. On paper, the idea is a good one. Business finance is an on-going issue and there is evidence that state-backed lenders work well elsewhere, notably in Germany. There is also much to be said for ensuring that the various government initiatives are brought into one place. What the scheme does not do, however, is answer the central question about demand. Access to finance is, indeed, part of the problem. But there are also any number of businesses too wary to borrow, as the many company balance sheets awash with uninvested cash attests.

Then there are the proposals for further reform of planning laws. Mr Osborne is right to note the "ludicrous" length of time it can take to navigate the planning process and to take steps to ease the strain. But with one supposedly radical "planning framework" only just approved, the question must surely be whether the Government will prove any more resistant to (typically Tory) rural protection campaigners a second time around.

Third is the proposition to use government guarantees to kickstart £10bn of house-building, expected later this week. There is real potential here, given the dire state of the construction sector and Britain's ever more dysfunctional housing market. But the scheme will need to be ambitious, both in the scale of what it offers and in the political will to tackle those same Nimbys who will fight changes to the planning system, if it is to be effective.

Signs that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne have – finally – woken up to the need to bounce Britain out of stagnation are welcome. There is also evidence that they are looking in some of the right places. Thus far, though, the proposals, like the shuffled Cabinet, look disconcertingly like more of the same.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Unbiased': Former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
Crofter's cottages on Lewis. The island's low population density makes it a good candidate for a spaceport (Alamy)  

My Scottish awakening, helped by horizontal sleet

Simon Kelner
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public