The Great Debate UK

How the government is really helping the UK economy

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The government’s latest plan to boost growth by relaxing planning permission rules has attracted a mixed reaction. In fairness, allowing homeowners who have detached houses to build an 8 metre long-extension is never going to get the UK economy out of the bolt hole it has found itself in. Likewise, the perceived U-turn on the plan to build another runway at Heathrow is unlikely to happen in time for Cameron and Osborne to take credit for the growth boost.

But all is not lost for the government. All it needs to do is to continue its policy of gently loosening the Treasury’s purse strings. “But we are going through a period of fiscal austerity,” I hear you cry. Indeed that is what the government wants us to think, but the economic data just doesn’t support that assertion. The latest GDP data reported that government spending was flat in the second quarter. That is down from the large 1.9% increase in the first quarter. However the UK’s fiscal consolidation effort looks fairly meagre when you consider that government spending has only fallen once in the last six quarters.

Home extensions or no home extensions can’t compete with the purchasing power of government when it comes to boosting the economy. Thus, if the government  decides to loosen its fiscal targets at the Autumn Budget statement in November (even at the risk of losing the UK’s triple A credit rating) as some believe is likely, the UK economy could be in a good position for 2013.

But is that really a good economic move for the long-term? Most politicians in Western Democracies know that we can’t keep up the level of public spending or debt accumulation we have been used to. However, not that many are willing to tackle the problem head on. The UK government has bucked this trend, and staked the Chancellor’s reputation on reducing our debt levels and dependency on public spending during this parliament. Osborne is finding out the hard way that it’s easier said than done to take things (read benefits) away from people who are used to them. He found this out to humiliating effect when he was booed at a Paralympics medal presentation ceremony.

Democracy vs. austerity

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By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

Throughout history it has always been difficult to take something away from someone once you have given it to them. Europe is finding that it is extremely difficult to reign in public finances once they start to go out of control. Democracies don’t like to vote for austerity, which is why Sarkozy lost the Presidency in France, why a radical left party came second in the Greek elections and why the Conservatives got a drubbing at last week’s local elections in the UK.

This tells us something about democracy in the western world. Governments have to manage the public finances directly – they have to sell the debt, do the sums and present budgets. However, the people who vote them into (and out of) power are the public, who rightly in most cases, believe they have worked hard, paid  taxes and deserve the services and retirement promises made to them.

from The Great Debate:

Britain’s austerity experiment is faltering

It was the Welsh sage Alan Watkins who remarked that a budget that looked good the day it was delivered to the British Parliament was sure to look terrible a week later, and vice versa. The avalanche of new information dumped by the Treasury is simply too much to grasp at a single sitting, and governments tend to bury bad news in a welter of statistics. And so it proved with finance minister George Osborne’s budget served up last week.

The immediate headlines stressed that rich Brits would pay less income tax – down from 50 percent to 45 percent – but it only took a day before even traditional Conservative cheerleaders like the Daily Mail were condemning Osborne for funding tax breaks for bankers and billionaires by stealing from those living in retirement. The paper’s cover screamed: “Osborne picks the pockets of pensioners.”

from James Saft:

Britain eats (leverages) its young

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Four years, several failed banks and at least one global recession later, Britain has finally discovered what its young people need: 19-1 leverage.

Britain has announced a new housing initiative, the centerpiece of which is a plan to entice first-time buyers into buying newly-built properties with as little as 5 percent down.

from James Saft:

Pension savers get the boot

From Dublin to Paris to Budapest to inside those brown UPS trucks delivering holiday packages, it has been a tough few weeks for savers and retirees.

Moves by the Irish, French and Hungarian governments, and by the famous delivery company, showed that in the post-crisis world retirees, present and future, will be paying much of the price and taking on more of the risk.

from Global News Journal:

Quadriplegic in an age of austerity

Every time I write a story on European countries cutting public spending, I feel a frisson of panic. I can't help but fear my health, lifestyle and liberty could be a casualty of the "age of austerity".peter

On assignment covering the Sri Lankan civil war for Reuters four years ago, I broke my neck in a minibus smash. It left me quadriplegic, almost entirely paralysed from the shoulders down and totally dependent on 24 hour care. I was 25.

In support of a “super law” to clamp down on tax avoidance

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-Nizar Manek is a writer based at the London School of Economics. He blogs at Albino Whale. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed are his own.-

In this current state of ‘austerity’, with a proliferating tax avoidance industry whose reason for existence it is to creatively exploit the ever-complicating fiscal spaghetti of taxing statutes – the new loopholes for avoidance which inevitably arise upon construction of new legislation, Benjamin Franklin would of course be wrong in his conclusion on certainty, that: “In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes”.

from MacroScope:

It’s all Germany’s fault

It is fairly commonplace at the moment for U.S. and UK financial analysts -- what continental Europeans call the Anglo-Saxons -- to predict the collapse of the euro zone,  a project they were mostly sceptical about in the first place.  MacroScope touched on this on two occasions in March.

The latest foray into this area comes from Alan Brown,  global chief  investment officer at the large UK fund firm  Schroders. But he does it with twist,  blaming what he sees as the eventual  collapse of the euro zone not on the structure itself nor  on the profligacy of peripheral economies, but on Germany's response to the crisis.

A year of austerity looms in 2010

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david-kuo_motley-foolthumbnail-David Kuo is director at the Motley Fool. The opinions expressed are his own.-

If you thought 2009 was as bad as things will get, then think again: 2010 could be worse. It is likely to be a year of enforced austerity with both the government and households making obligatory cuts to their budgets.

High on the government’s agenda will be reducing the Budget deficit, if the UK is to avoid the embarrassment of having its sovereign debt rating cut by rating agencies. This will have a knock-on effect on households, which could see their disposable incomes slashed by hikes in both direct and indirect taxes.

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