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Coalition hails milestone as GDP returns to pre-crash level

BULLISH Coalition ministers have hailed the latest GDP figures, which show the economy is back to where it was before the 2008 financial crash, as a major milestone and a "big day for Britain".

But Labour insisted it was "a fact" that people were still worse off and that pay growth has fallen to just 0.3 per cent, well behind inflation at 1.9 per cent.

It was also noted that among the leading G7 countries, only Italy has taken longer than the UK to regain its pre-crisis size.

Yet earlier this week, the IMF forecast UK growth for 2014 at 3.2 per cent: the highest among the G7 countries.

The Office for National Statistics said growth for April to June was up 0.8 per cent. This means the economy is now 0.2 per cent above the peak before the financial crash six years ago.

Looking at the annual perspective, the figures mean GDP was 3.1 per cent higher in the second quarter compared to the same period a year ago - the highest such year-on-year increase since the last quarter of 2007.

The widely expected 0.8 per cent rise in the second quarter was driven by the powerhouse services sector, which accounts for three-quarters of output. This grew by one per cent. But expansion in the manufacturing sector slowed to just 0.2 per cent, while construction shrank by 0.5 per cent.

And, overall, since the ­beginning of 2008, while the services sector is 2.9 per cent ahead of the then peak, manufacturing is lower by 7.4 per cent and construction by 10.7 per cent.

With two million more people now sharing the economic cake, it is estimated that GDP per head will take another three years to reach its pre-recession level; it is currently 5.5 per cent below it.

David Cameron described the numbers as a "major milestone" while George Osborne praised the hard work of the British people for the progress made.

The Chancellor, however, cautioned that there remained a long way to go, saying: "We owe it to hardworking taxpayers not to repeat the mistakes of the past and instead to continue with the plan that is delivering economic security and a brighter future for all."

Nick Clegg was also upbeat, saying it was a "big day for Britain" and that the Coalition rescue plan had worked.

The Deputy Prime Minister was keen to stress the political point too, noting: "For the Liberal Democrats, this shows we were right to step up to the plate and form a coalition government in the first place."

Mr Clegg's fellow LibDem Danny Alexander said the Coalition had cleared up Labour's mess but, while the Treasury Chief Secretary said the numbers were good, he admitted: "It clearly is not job done."

Ed Miliband dismissed the statistics, saying Britain still faced "big problems" and attacked the Tories' response, claiming it showed how out of touch they were.

Ed Balls, while he welcomed the GDP rise, insisted that the Coalition's policies had choked off the recovery, emphasising how America had reached its pre-recession peak as far back as 2011.

"With GDP per head not set to recover for three more years and most people still seeing their living standards squeezed, this is no time for complacent claims that the economy is fixed," the shadow Chancellor declared.

At Holyrood, John Swinney, the Scottish Finance Secretary, also welcomed the rise in wealth- creation but noted how Scotland had moved above its pre-recession level three months earlier.

The figures, he said, confirmed Scotland "has been ahead of the UK when it comes to achieving pre-recession output".

The Trades Union Congress insisted it was the "wrong kind of recovery", based on low pay and low productivity. TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady stressed how pre-crash living standards were a long way off and explained that workers on average were around £40 a week worse off than in 2008.

She said: "The Government is overseeing economic growth driven by low pay and low productivity. This is the wrong kind of recovery and won't deliver the higher living standards and sustainable growth that Britain needs."

CBI director-general John ­Cridland took a more upbeat view, saying: "With confidence rising and businesses investing we're starting to see a recovery built on solid foundations. We now have a strong launchpad to propel the economy forward."

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