· 2 min read · Features

It feels like 13 black cats walking under a ladder on All Hallow's Eve

Published:

The UK is facing a crisis that is “the economic equivalent of war”, Vince Cable, secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills, told the Lib Dem party conference last month in a speech short on optimism and long on doom and gloom.

 

Ironically, just a few days later, David Cameron (yes, the guy who declared Britain was “broken”) was talking up our sceptred isle in his new £500,000 GREAT Britain marketing campaign – a great place to study (if you can afford the fees), invest (as long as you are non-dom), visit (despite declining infrastructure) and work (as long as it’s not in the public sector).

As we enter a big month in the employer’s calendar – abolition of the Default Retirement Age, the introduction of the Agency Workers Regulations and the publication of Dame Carol Black and David Frost’s review of workplace sickness absence – business can be forgiven for being confused about Government growth plans.

Despite an eight-year timeline to introduce Sir John Vickers’ recommendations on ring-fencing their high street operations, banks moan it is not the time for regulatory change. Meanwhile, industry bodies say employment laws are too draconian and business feels it is still tied up in red tape. Calls for the end of the 50p tax rate are back as, apparently, the few people on this rate will put their hands in their pockets and invest the savings right back into the economy.

All this as Cameron is “determined to make the most of this unprecedented opportunity [the Olympics and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee] to ensure we deliver a lasting economic legacy to benefit the whole country”. Fingers crossed.

The problem is firms cannot flourish without demand. Just ask BAE Systems; it should be leading a recovery rather than shedding jobs. Just ask retailers on London’s Oxford Street, who have opened up their Christmas shops already.

We face years of slow growth and a decline in living standards. Forget Christmas, it feels like 13 black cats walking under a ladder past a broken mirror on All Hallow’s Eve. Doomsday is coming.

Or is it? While I do not want to downplay economic realities, we should look for any positive signs and build on them. Will Hutton, this year’s third Most Influential UK Thinker, is doing just that with the launch of his Big Innovation Centre, designed to build a world-class innovation ecosystem for the UK.

Meanwhile, Black and Frost’s work on absence will help the wellbeing of the nation as well as reducing costs for business. And the move to make apprenticeships a smart choice for youngsters is beginning to pay off.

These are positive approaches designed to help drag the UK out of the economic mire and to look to the shape of our economy for the future. Let’s put more effort behind these – and maybe then Britain will be great again.