By Tim Montgomerie
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By all accounts the Government is getting ready to turbo charge its growth agenda. The Prime Minister said as much in an under-reported article for last weekend's Mail on Sunday. Behind-the-scenes the Treasury and Whitehall are straining every sinew to ensure the Prime Minister's words are meaningful. I'm told to expect big things from George Osborne's Tory Conference speech and, more particularly, from his Autumn Statement. After being the roadbock to a far-ranging growth policy the Chancellor is now more than aware that his deficit reduction targets will be badly missed if the economy doesn't pick up and pick up soon. He's been told that Britain might enjoy market confidence today but that market sentiment could disappear overnight if investors conclude that Britain is trapped in a low growth cycle and that it won't generate the revenues to pay off its debts.
Pro-growth action must happen now for two reasons.
- Reason one is that we need growth now. The Coalition's supply-side reforms to schools and welfare will have huge positive implications for Britain's future competitiveness but they'll be bearing fruit in years, not months. People are unemployed now. Households are struggling to make ends meet now. Companies are choosing whether to relocate abroad now. Osborne needs to do something dramatic that will encourage business expansion now but won't cost him much money. The talk is of granting future and significant tax exemptions to businesses that start in the next 12 months.
- The second reason for acting now is that a lot of pro-growth measures aren't going to be popular. The battle against the Coalition's planning reforms, for example, is beginning to greatly worry 10 Downing Street. In their joint OpEd on Monday, Eric Pickles and George Osborne signalled that they were ready for the fight and that there would be no U-turn on a measure that is deemed essential for affordable housing and business expansion. But this is only one of a number of difficult battles. There's the looming showdown over the Vickers report. All indications are that Cable is prepared to resign if banks aren't fundamentally restructured. Cameron and Osborne – with some support from Clegg and Alexander and also from Alistair Darling – have concluded that now is the wrong time to restructure and possibly tip the economy into serious trouble. There's then the battle over the 50p tax rate. The battle over unaffordable public sector pensions and public sector strikes. And what about green taxes? Senior Tories in the Coalition are finally worrying about the cost of climate change policies but so long as Chris Huhne is at DECC there'll be no big changes in policy.
My final point on all of this: Is the pro-growth side of the equation ready for the fight? The planning debate does not bode well. Even before a word is spoken in a TV debate between those nice-sounding countryside groups on one side and developers on the other we know who is starting with an advantage. The National Trust and the Council for the Protection of Rural England sound so perfect whereas business groups are motivated by that dreadful idea of profit. You know what I mean.
The pro-growth side of the equation simply isn't properly organised for the fights ahead. What Britain needs is a campaign group for the unemployed. It could be called TwoMillionJobs.com. Its aim should be to campaign for the policies that are needed to create two million jobs across Britain in the next five years. The CBI, BCC and other business groups should put their hands in their pockets and fund it. Long ago, Labour became the party of selfishness – of those in work, not those deperate for a job.
When there's a debate about planning, green taxes or red tape on the TV it should be a spokesman for the unemployed (ie from TwoMillionJobs.com) who should be the representative of the growth side of the equation. It would start to change the narrative in favour of growth. Representatives of TMJ should also be the lead opponents of the trade unions who want to protect the rights of existing employees, making it expensive for employers to recruit.
This country should be a lot more exercised about unemployment. In the 1980s when unemployment was this high it was a national shame. Now we almost shrug our shoulders. It's a big contrast with America. The jobs crisis on the other side of the Atlantic is a genuine crisis. As I prepare the newslinks for ConHomeUSA I'm struck on a daily basis by the prominence the American media gives to the issue in contrast to our own.
When Osborne announces his growth measures they shouldn't be presented in terms of helping British business but in creating jobs for the people of London, Manchester and the Midlands. It would be good to think that the CBI etc would build an infrastructure than can help him win the debate… but for the reasons set out by Jesse Norman last week (£), I'm not optimistic.