Addressing the deficit is monumentally important, and urgent, and so far as can be judged, the Con./Lib.Dem coalition Government has made a very fair beginning in facing it.
Everyone knows that such measures as have been introduced -relatively unpopular, albeit ‘tolerated’ as they are- still represent only the earliest stage of resolving that particular crisis. We must remember that un-trumpeted in the background, but crucially worsening, is our National Debt, which is not being paid off to any degree, whilst the country continues needing to borrow even more.
If your ears are sufficiently attuned, you will have heard murmurings from those ‘in the know’ who firmly believe that our financial troubles are very likely to persist for several years. However hard we might seek it, there simply is not any prospect whatsoever of a “quick fix.” We MUST think long-term. Public tolerance cannot be relied upon to endure indefinitely. If allowed to suppose something will turn up, and things will soon be on the mend, their “disappointment” arising from non-realisation of their own unjustified assumptions will be severe. I am not privy to all the Government’s plans, so will say here and now that we simply cannot afford to wait until after the trading deficit is eliminated to begin a serious attempt to inspire, spark, create and nurture our nation’s economic, manufacturing and exporting resurgence.
That said, we should be looking for the most realistic, creative and efficient strategy that will enable both of the above-mentioned challenges to be tackled as near simultaneously as humanly possible. Logically, that would suggest whatever plan is eventually implemented should not only roll out a scheme for industrial recovery, but also in the process do as much as can be done to provide vital solution(s) in other areas which otherwise in our present situation we simply cannot pay for.
It requires focus, selectivity, decisiveness and clear vision.
Let me suggest an example.
Further to my recent article on house-building schemes in Anglia, I want to draw attention to today’s hot news that soon we may expect the proportion of our nation who can remain as or aspire to become home owners to fall to a level not seen since 1980. Actually being an owner-occupier should not need to be such a frenetic dream, should it? Why is it so, when in other European countries, to rent is the happy norm? Is it not genuine shortage, coupled with the avaricious attitude of many “landlords” in ‘rip-off Britain’, which causes people to gamble everything for the chance to escape to a situation more under their own personal control?
Whatever the ‘nimby’s say, there is a desperate housing shortage overall, irrespective of ownership. Miserable indeed must it be to be homeless, or housed in conditions that cause stress, depression, mental and physical illness -all this without even mentioning familial, societal and communal fracture arising from below-standard, cramped and/or unaffordable accommodation! How dare we even contemplate perpetuating and forcing upon others maybe less fortunate than ourselves such atrocious misery and ruin? This is Britain! Doesn’t that mean anything any more –not even to we Britons?
Government is clearly aware of the problem, seeing it re-examines the Building Planning system rules.
Alright. What is my bright idea? Answer me this question: How many businesses; what volume of product / manufacturing; what variety of materials are necessary to operate a thriving house-building and outfitting programme? Yet we allowed that sector to be almost the very first for the chop when the cash crisis came upon us. Employers bankrupt; builders unemployed; suppliers redundant: the very opposite of what we so desperately need if we are to overcome present trials. Consequently housing lists grow longer, and ‘old’ house prices (not real vcalues) rise obscenely. Yes, there is already such a thing as negative equity, although if you don’t need to move house, that is of little significance. As unpleasant as that situation is, we cannot simply legislate away this inevitable consequence of the madcap “housing boom” we and the Banks fostered by mortgaging to our necks and beyond.
World war II lasted six years. At the start we thought it would all be over by Christmas. Then we feared it might last a decade. With an earnest sense of reality we instituted for our survival a “Coalition Government” –a Government of National Unity. Despite what the snipers may say, that is exactly the kind of opportunity we have now –in effect if not in name. Concerning the economic crisis the main Parties do not differ in principle, but only upon tactics. Contrary to Opposition hysteria during the Referendum, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with coalition Government, as Lib. Dem. Success very well proves. Again, challenges could deny us for a generation some expectations and standards we have taken for granted. So why don’t we plan our survival and eventual recovery as realistically and in the same way as we did in the ‘forties? Things really are almost that bad nowadays, aren’t they, even if the basic causes are very different, and other nations are not actively trying to destroy us!
A f’rinstance: Pre-fabricated houses proved an immense success, and at least in part dealt with the consequences of enemy bombing. Many lasted years and years as ‘a des. res.’ or at least ‘adequate’ long after hostilities ceased. Modern versions should be even better. Obviously we cannot at present expect “normal” house building on anything like the necessary scale, so why not prepare sites in the modern way, to accommodate (eventually) the kinds of houses we would expect during the good times, but meanwhile erect thereon sufficient “pre-fabs” for rent, or sale on short leases, to take the sting out of the housing scarcity? Their manufacture would develop on a significant scale: they could be rapidly erected, more energy-efficient than ever before. Home-produced components, materials, fitments of all the usual kinds would be obtained from re-vitalised British companies presently suffering a lean order book. When the financial crisis comes to an end, they can systematically be replaced (as easily de-mountable with minimum local disruption) by a permanent house on each already prepared plot. Site layouts would be intrinsically modern from the start, so that when the permanent houses were in place, we would have ready-made community layouts that should satisfy in every respect.
Examined as an example of the kind of realistic attitudes I suggest, would not this serve as a ‘shot in the arm’ for manufacturing, revive businesses, increase confidence and at the same time solve a nasty running sore at the heart of our nation which currently throws us into spasms such as gang crime, the rioting a month ago, and a great deal of general unrest based upon fear –all of which is an additional and, I claim, unnecessary, burden which of itself is actually holding us back.
Already there is heavy investment in solar power generation and wind-farms on a large scale. There must be other options that only require imagination and resolve to revive similarly selected industrial groupings, while at the same time tackling and solving other specified lingering and hitherto intractable social and environmental problems. Creation of a national water “grid” is one possibility.
What about selective fuel rationing to improve our balance of payments and as a spur to mass availability of “clean” motoring etc. at the same time providing a boost to public transport!
I applaud Vince Cable’s attitude to the banks whose structuring and policies contributed heavily to present difficulties. They must never again be allowed to gamble recklessly with our (the common man’s) hard-earned money. Now they flourish whilst we (the common man again) pick up the tab, yet are denied financial backing for enterprise and growth. Furthermore, we as individuals should utterly discard this foolish notion that we can somehow endlessly live on future earnings (if any) when we can’t afford what we may covet from today’s earnings. How daft that businesses advertise on TV “free credit” and “nothing to pay ‘til next year” as a way to revive slumping sales figures brought on by debt.
Serious plans should be drawn up with industrialists, designers, architects, social planners and economists to tackle the land-banking scandal, and to site functionally efficient new development in such places as NOT to blight our landscape / environment or those necessary “green lungs”, nor necessitate long commuter journeys for residents to reach centres of employment. Fuel costs, traffic congestion, air pollution are all built-in costs of earlier strategies which are clearly a stupid drain upon ever more precious resources. Let’s not create even further reliance upon the spread of motorways as if they were a rational (even if eye-wateringly expensive) “solution” to our problems.
To sum up my message: Can we get a bit of realism and common sense in here somewhere? Please?