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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine