The Guardian Northerner‘s Ed Jacobs takes a post-holiday headache pill and spots possible light at the end of the recession tunnel
The holiday is over and – as with all good festive seasons – we now enter the hangover period, with people up and down the country going back to work after nearly a fortnight of celebration, balancing excessive eating with quality family time.
If this prospect isn’t sobering enough, the economic predictions for 2013 should do the trick. Just before the Christmas break came the news that growth for the third quarter of 2012 had been revised down from 1% to 0.9%. Not a substantial adjustment, but enough to point to growth taking a downward trajectory, with the fourth quarter unlikely to be anywhere near that ‘good’ given the absence of revenues from the Olympics and the British Retail Consortium’s assessment that Christmas trading has been merely ‘acceptable’.
Add to this the prospects of what Dan Silver, writing for the Northerner this week has dubbed the ‘welfare cliff’ of sizable benefit cuts later in the year, and predictions from one think tank that 2013 will resemble a ‘groundhog’ year with growth likely to either fall or remain stagnant, and there seems little to cheer about as we enter a New Year.
But in the face of such gloomy prospects, 2013 could potentially be the year that the north has a chance to shine?
In a largely unreported research document the global economic think tank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has argued that what it dubs ‘underdeveloped’ regions have potentially significant contributions to make to securing national economic growth.
Based on a study of 23 such regions across the world including Greater Manchester and Tyne and Wear, the OECD concludes that investing in “less developed” regions makes “good economic sense”.
Whilst declaring as “critical” the need to focus on improving workforce skills, it pointedly argues that public policy needs to be pro-growth as opposed to being based on public subsidies to prevent “dependency”. Interestingly and flying in the face of much of the Government’s efforts, the OECD concludes that policies targeting infrastructure “are not usually the most effective tools for strengthening growth in underdeveloped regions” as, it argues, in such regions infrastructure “does not appear to be the binding constraint.”
In a nod meanwhile to Lord Heseltine’s calls for beefed-up regional structures across the UK, along the lines of the previous Regional Development Agencies, the OECD goes on to note that for underdeveloped regions:
the challenge is to create institutions that strengthen the region’s voice.
In its monthly political poll for December, carried out by ICM, the Guardian has highlighted the gloom that has descended across UK PLC with 56% of respondents in northern England alone believing that the economy will be stuck in a downturn spiral by the end of the year. We are the most pessimistic part of England.
Given this, the coalition could give the north, and through that the country as a whole, a New Year treat by going all-out to get northern England firing on all cylinders in the knowledge that, as noted by the OECD, northern prosperity really would lead to national prosperity. Any continued sluggishness to take eyes away from the south as the engine of growth is likely to lead to the electoral disaster for the Conservatives already predicted by ConservativeHome.com’s Paul Goodman.