Tristram Hunt: Build a better future and lay the foundations for recovery
NOT a single dip. Not a double-dip. But it looks like this Government is crashing our economy into an unprecedented triple-dip recession.
After excuses ranging from royal weddings, the wrong type of snow, and Japanese tsunamis, there is nowhere left to hide.
George Osborne's experiment with austerity has failed and we are all picking up the pieces. Now we need a plan to get us of the hole – and it is to start building houses.
First of all, let's be clear about the wretched state we're in.
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In the midst of 2012, an Olympics-sized cash injection briefly restored the British economy to positive growth.
But once the last firework of the closing ceremony cascaded into the Stratford skyline, we returned to recession – last quarter the economy shrunk by 0.3 per cent.
This is the slowest recovery for more than a century, slower even than the Great Depression of the 1930s. Even before the latest contraction the economy was still 3.1 per cent smaller than in 2008 before the crash.
And even better than expected unemployment figures have failed either to lift the gloom or increase demand in the economy since price rises continue to outstrip wage growth. The real value of pay packets after inflation is 6.7 per cent lower than it was in 2009.
Furthermore, there has been a massive increase in part-time employment, with 1.4m workers taking part-time roles because they cannot get a full-time job.
Foolishly, the Government's response to this economic meltdown is to begin a five-year conversation about our relationship with Europe. Now, nothing stalls business and repels investors more than uncertainty.
As Stephen Ordell, chief executive of Ford in Europe said, even to discuss leaving a European Union responsible for 50 per cent of your exports would be 'devastating for the UK economy'.
When the economy is in dire straits, fixing it should occupy all of the Prime Minister's attention not playing party political games about European referendums.
Thankfully, someone has been doing some serious thinking about how we get our economy moving.
And what the latest report from the Centre for Cities think-tank is recommending to kick-start growth in our urban economies is unequivocal: a massive programme of house-building.
It was construction (as well as rearmament) which dragged Britain out of the 1930s' Depression, and now we need a new generation of shovel-ready schemes.
We are currently building around 100,000 fewer houses than we need just to keep pace with demand. Current forecasts suggest we need to build 232,000 homes in England just to match projected growth.
The report calculates delivering those extra 100,000 homes could generate 150,000 jobs and provide as much as 1 per cent boost to growth.
Because it's not just the construction jobs: it is also the supply of tiles and bricks, as well the white-goods, the carpet-fitters, the removals, the conveyance and legal work, and, most importantly of all, the ceramics.
There is a remarkable correlation between ceramics sales and new home development.
And The Potteries needs this boost more than most. Having coped better than some in the early part of the recession (according to the report we were 15th least hit out of 64 towns and cities, from 2008-2009) the picture is beginning to change.
Stoke-on-Trent is now the 41st worst hit out of the 64, which is not surprising given the £100 million taken out of the local economy by city council cuts.
But some good news in the Centre for Cities report is that Stoke-on-Trent house prices grew by the 5th biggest percentage. And this is what we have, literally, to build on.
If confidence is starting to return to our housing market, we need to ensure developers have no excuses not to get the cement mixers turning.
We need to keep going with innovative schemes for self-build projects, refitting old stock, building bungalows and sheltered accommodation, but also a new tier of executive homes and high-end communities to attract in the professional and managerial classes the city urgently needs.
Now we can and must do our bit in Stoke-on-Trent, but the Government could also help by abandoning the blind-alley of austerity, cutting VAT, and setting free local authorities to build council houses and keep receipts.
Coalition economics have collapsed; it's time for a plan B; and it begins close to a new home near you.