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

 

Share

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: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
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