With parliament hanging in the balance and Europe gently melting into crisis, what does an incoming government need to know? Having spent much of the last month in consultation with eminent statisticians and wise wonks for this month’s feature on how Britain changed under Labour since 1997, here are a few points that any incoming government might ponder.
Everyone agrees that British businesses will be the engine of any economic recovery, yet looking at the percentage of total lending that banks are willing to lend to businesses—as opposed to other banks, or to consumers for mortgages—makes sober reading. In 1997, business lending was 16 per cent of total UK bank lending; by 2009, it had fallen to a wretched 8 per cent, despite total lending increasing three times.
Manufacturing, too, is an Achilles heel for Britain. The most frequently-cited stats used in public debate bundle it up with production and energy—strip these away, though, and you’ll see that actually making things has declined as a proportion of GDP from 21 per cent in 1997 to just 12 per cent in 2007. Britain also became a net oil importer for the first time in over a decade in 2004, and by 2008 had just 39 per cent of the proven gas reserves and 60 per cent of the proven oil reserves that it did in 1998.
Spending has done marvellous things for NHS staffing levels, waiting lists and the outcomes of many diseases. Once you get down to lifestyle, though, the picture is less rosy: Chlamydia, Herpes and HIV diagnoses are up; diabetes has almost doubled, now affecting around 5 per cent of the population; while alcohol-related diseases and obesity have also climbed steadily. Meanwhile, there are 40 per cent fewer post offices than in 1997, 55 per cent fewer social clubs and 6 per cent fewer public libraries. And more than 1,700 more Tescos.
Then there’s the ongoing economic saga. UK borrowing hit £23.5bn in March, the highest March figure since records started, while the grand total of government debt is now £890 billion, or 62 per cent of GDP; something that could easily get up to 75 per cent over the coming few years.
And did you also know that public sector employment now stands at around…