It’s Friday afternoon, the sun is sort of shining in Stirling and apparently the recession is almost over. I woke up this morning, turned on Radio 4 and was told that, so it must be true. Someone from NIESR had told them and they, and various newspapers and other media, were reporting it.
But read closer, and what do we get? Growth may soon exceed where we were in 2008 – in other words we are back where we started. I write “may” as this is a prediction and not a reality. But nonetheless it is apparently “The end of the Great Recession … an important moment .. symbolically that matters”.
But closer again and we read that GDP per capita will remain well below its previous peak for some time yet – basically we are taking more people to do the stuff we did in 2008. Wages remain well below that they were in 2009 and NIESR predict that that ground may, just may, but there again may not, be made up by 2018.
And yesterday the Bank of England left in place its interest rate level and its QE policy. Feels like we are still on life support then.
If that’s the end of the recession, then … no, I’ll behave.
My frustration with all this arises because the towns and places I tend to pass through don’t seem to be looking like what the end of a recession should look like to me. The Local Data Company just noted that over 50,000 vacant shops still exist in GB. We all know about the rise in food bank usage. In the Thistle Centre in the centre of Stirling this week I think I counted 9 units vacant at least. Go outside on the various streets and the figures are even higher. The same is true in town after town across Scotland – and much of England. I’ve been around in various towns the north and south of Scotland in recent weeks and the story is the same – issues of vacancy, dereliction, lack of money and decline, all not restricted to the town centre and high street.
And when interest rates do rise, and QE is stopped, and if people have not felt benefits by then in their pockets then what will that feel and look like?
There are no doubt green shoots, and on good days I think I can see them in places away from London and the South-east. but to declare the end of the recession seems to me to be foolhardy if not downright misleading. There is a massive amount of work to be done in rebuilding communities and centres and making people feel valued and we are a long way from achieving much of this.
It might be alright in a technical sense – a few quarters when we weren’t in disaster – but the reasons and the issues behind this are far too problematic to be hailing a great symbolic event in this way.