Alternative inflation report – or what Mervyn King does not mention

Our Retail Prices Index (RPI) stands at 4.8 % and the index the Bank of England targets – called the Consumer Price Index stands at 3.1 %. They are higher than the targeted indices of any of our G7 competitors.  Almost double the next one down the list.

France                 1.7  %

Germany            1.2 %

USA                      1.2

Italy                     1. 0 %

Canada                 1.0%     (June  figure)

Japan                 -0.7 %    ( June  figure)

This report was originally just intended to keep the fact that this country has usually got the highest inflation figure in the G7, despite us having inflation indices that understate inflation, in the minds of various people we are lobbying.  But we now use it to outline how our ideas about inflation are developing. As such we hope it is more interesting than the Bank of England’s quarterly Inflation Report, which concentrates on optimistic predictions that are almost always wrong in recent years.

We have consistently warned that food and energy prices are straining living standards across the world. Of course food is of far less weight than in the inflation baskets of the developed world than it was in the past , or than it is the developing world. It averages about 40% in some of the most populous Islamic countries, like Pakistan and Egypt for example, where social instability could have global consequences.

So although the fires and floods that are becoming a regular summer occurrence on the Europe-Asia landmass put pressure on our standard of living, it is many times more serious elsewhere.   

For example, Russia has again banned wheat exports which is already driving prices up outside that country. Stopping  farmers exporting is one of the world’s traditional ways of holding down prices in producer countries’ home markets.

Rather than inflation in the UK being the result of a series of one-off occurances as Mervyn King insists,  perhaps we are heading for a new world-wide era of Austerity. With inflation rather than deflation being the main global issue. What we have been promoting as our Regional Prosperity and Inflation Framework, might well have to serve as an ‘Austerity & Inflation’ Framework.

We have also recently published our outline of what an inflation index for our home region would actually tell us.

Using the most authoritative housing affordability figures for the regions – produced by the Halifax – we can see how housing prices, which should have weight in any proper inflation indices, demonstrate how a clear ‘Two Income Trap’ emerged under New Labour. It seems it now takes 2 incomes to buy a home that could be bought on one income when New Labour came to power. This fits with our long standing argument that two incomes are now required to run a household that could be run on one income a generation ago. But interestingly, the movement in house prices occurred as early as the Lawson boom of the late 1980s as far as the West Midlands is concerned. But real house prices fell back under John Major, before becoming the national phenomenon since. This is explained further on this project’s main webpage and it can also be accessed here.

This erosion in real wages did not help manufacturing jobs survive in the West Midlands, even in the later years of the Thatcher government. Had Nigel Lawson had an authoritative index for inflation in regions like ours, perhaps he would have heeded the warning it would have been sounding – and have restrained his inflationary boom before it became a national disaster. Labour would not then have slid down the same slipway. But that would have been a very different Britain, which might today have more manufacturing and less household debt than it has actually come to have.

We have recently set out a path for reform to the Statistics Authority’s review of inflation, and we are grateful to the Trust that has regularly supported us in this area of work  in recent years – The Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust.

Our report last month challenged the notion that we have been struggling with a global deflation in any way comparable to the 1930s and can be found here.

Andrew Lydon

LWM Regional Prosperity & Inflation Project


A trend set in – Alternative inflation report for June

Our Retail Prices Index (RPI) stands at 5 % and the index the Bank of England targets – called the Consumer Price Index stands at 3.2 %. They are higher than the targeted indices of any of our G7 competitors.

France                 1.5  %

Italy                     1. 3 %

Canada                1.4  %   ( May  figure)

USA                      1.1  %

Germany            0.9 %

Japan                 -0.9 %    ( May  figure)

It looks like a trend has now firmly set in for us to be the G7  inflationary economy. Besides undermining our living standards this will help overseas companies keep their grip on our home markets. In the post war decades, we could always rely on the Italians and often the French to have higher inflation than us.

Much has been said about how various world leaders have saved us from a repeat of the 1930s. But no repeat of the 1930s deflation has ever been on the cards in the last few years.  The price of food and energy had fallen after the First World War and had no tendency towards rising until the rearmament began in the late 1930s. This can be seen in the graph below of the UK cost of living index, the vast majority of which was food and energy purchases.

By contrast there has been an under-lying upwards push on food and energy prices through out most of the last couple of crisis years. Recently we have seen demonstrations against  the price increases across India and as drought grips important grain producing regions around Russia  the upwards pressure on food prices is set to continue.

Commentators have been talking about how close we have been to deflation. But  in the UK particularly, this is indicative of the poor standard of economics in this country. Briefings from the Bank of England in particular, often seem to suggest that  inflation does not just mean that prices are rising. They imply that inflation only becomes something when wage claims begin to be put forward on the assumption that prices will go on rising.

We have recently set out how we think inflation and especially house prices have undermined the standard of living in our West Midlands home region which you can go to by clicking here.

Last month’s edition of this report included an examination of how the UK lost track of its own people’s living standards in the 1980s,  and how conservatives are still politically blighted by it.  It can be accessed here

Andrew Lydon

LWM        Regional Prosperity & Inflation Project

The Green Economy and Local Job Creation

On July 12th our latest speaker meeting sparked a lively discussion on green jobs in the West Midlands- Where will they come from? Who will they employ? And how they will shape the future economy?

Keith Budden, manager of Be Birmingham’s Environmental Partnership, kicked the evening off with a short presentation, outlining the potential to create 1.5 million jobs in the UK by de-carbonising the grid, developing the use of green technologies and encouraging green skills. Such advances have the potential to build upon the manufacturing expertise specific to Birmingham, with city- wide initiatives like the Green New Deal facilitating investment into local businesses and training schemes.

However, the expansion of small scale, sustainable employment opportunities is equally important: jobs which we don’t think of as ‘green’ such as driving a milk float are equally part of the green economy in terms of their contributin to a local food supply. Such activities create the diversity that encourages local resourcefulness, a thriving local economy and conserves our ‘city of 1000 trades’. It is therefore important to facilitate the conditions in which there is sufficient funding, coordination and commitment to allow this diversity to thrive.

At present many small businesses do exist but largely in isolation and are made financially viable only by those taking a moral standpoint. Jon Morris expressed that the Government’s Green Investment Bank model would do little to strengthen local linkages, effectively putting our green future into the hands of the UK’s major banks who traditionally have found it much easier to channel investment to larger companies rather than getting involved in small-scale enterprise.

Peak oil will have a major role in the shift towards a more localised approach, as a decline in cheap foreign imports will encourage the re-emergence of local repair industries (with Birmingham City Council currently mapping reuse and repair businesses in the area) and make the innovation, manufacture and marketing of products and services more economic at a local level.

Discussion followed on what needs to be done to catalyse the green economy in order to create green jobs. A need for networking between organisations, businesses and individuals it was felt has great potential. A free networking forum would provide the opportunity to match innovative grassroots ideas with those who could make it happen, whilst raising awareness of possible allies,  funding opportunities and support systems to assist in extending influence and creating employment.

This could spark the creation of a local green directory, much like finditinbirmigham.com but for all things green. The possibility of a ‘Green Dragons Den’ could also be a great way to share advice and empower people’s ideas, perhaps providing the break they need to catalyse local innovation and job creation.

Right now what is needed are enabling activities and structures, coupled with leadership from local institutions, in order to begin a transition to a diverse, sustainable local economy.

Anna Watson

Alternative inflation report – Living standards in the West Midlands

None of our current inflation indices register the unique house price inflation the UK has had. Had they done so in any manner comparable to Germany and the US,  there would have been far higher inflation registered across the UK under New Labour. Looking at housing  affordability indices gives us some idea of the seriousness of the real inflation being missed and an index that shows this up region by region would show a revealing story for the West Midlands.

Our house prices have changed so rapidly over the last generation in the UK  that we have adopted the practice of measuring affordability in terms of the number of years annual income one would need to buy a house. One of the most comprehensive set of figures for house prices across the regions has been compiled by the old Halifax Building Society (and its successors) since 1983.

The following chart shows their figures for 1983 for some of the ‘southern’ English regions including London.

The West Country, East Anglia and the East and West Midlands are included. I have left out the others so that the images are not too crowded. In the early years of  the Thatcher government, it is still the people of the West Midlands that find it easiest to buy their houses. The average house can be bought on the 3 times average male earnings that were the traditional lending standard. (But with a deposite also necessary).  It was London and especially the West Country where this was becoming a stretch. The full Halifax figures can be found here.

However look what had happened by September 1992 when the UK got kicked out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

It is now the West Midlands whose buying power has been erroded. The region is already on the way to being one where  a household, which not long before could be run on one income, could no longer. We were falling into what is in the USA refered to as the ‘Two Income Trap’. In the General Election of a few months before, the WM conurbation had for the first time  become the southern most sub-region to mainly vote  Labour.  The Conservative government lost here a whole Parliament before they lost the UK as  a  whole.  And even in 2010 the conurbation did not respond to David Cameron.

Under the John Major government house prices fell back and incomes slowly grew so that Labour did not actually inherit the Two Income Trap in 1997. But when the housing market peaked in 2007 we were all trapped. On the basis of traditional 3 times income lending, the whole of the UK was in the trap.  The average house required 5.86 times the average full time male wage . 2 incomes.  Most of the regions we have been particuarly looking at were slightly above that. The West Midlands had tasted this earlier than the others, but we were actually all in the same boat/trap now.How this situation will now evolve is difficult to say, but some regions will show a trend before others. Maybe it could even be that the West Midlands will show it up first. But for government to head off another wrong turn we will need to reform the way we measure inflation so that we have region by region figures that pick up housing inflation as part of the basket with other sensitive items such as food and energy.

Andrew Lydon

Is there a job in the Green Economy for you? LWM's latest speaker event

Birmingham Green New Deal and beyond: How the green economy can kick-start Birmingham out of recession and create a sustainable local economy.

Localise West Midlands and Birmingham Friends of the Earth would like to invite you to a speaker event discussing the potential of the green economy to boost local job creation.

Speakers:

  • Keith Budden, Environmental Partnership, Be Birmingham.
  • Jon Morris, West Midlands Green New Deal, Localise West Midlands.

Topics discussed:

  • How stabilising financial markets, initiating local job creation and securing our future against peak oil and climate change can be tackled together.
  • Inspiring, locally relevant stories of job creation in sustainable vocations such as energy efficiency, renewables and recycling.
  • The barriers to further green job creation and how they could be overcome.

The event is taking place Monday 12th July, 7pm @  Bertha Wright room, Carrs Lane Church Centre,  Birmingham. Regrettably there is no disabled access, we apologise in advance if this causes any inconvenience.

We hope that you can make it! Any queries please leave us a comment and we will get back to you asap.

Anna Watson

Lessons from the Thatcher/Reagan years – an Alternative inflation report

The new coalition government have inherited the highest inflation rate in the G7. Higher even than China. And as they consider any sort of increase in VAT to pay off national debt they need to think about how they keep their finger on the national pulse as the country faces these challenges to their living standards.

Immediately on coming to power, Margaret Thatcher’s chancellor raised VAT, much against her initial reluctance. And this was the start of a process that lead to the popular perception that living standards had been badly hit under Margaret Thatcher. And for no lasting gain.

This chart shows the official story of living standards in the UK. We are supposed to be about twice as prosperous as we were in the 1970s.

The hard times under Thatcher and Major are merely slight setbacks that we quickly recovered from. But if people really bought that story, why did the Tories, even with the mess that Gordon Brown made of our economy, face such reluctance to allow them an overall majority in 2010? Birmingham and the West Midlands are a striking example of this reluctance.

Contrast this blight on the Tories to what happened in the US under Ronald Reagan whose heirs have never been blighted by Reaganism. Two George Bushes stand as evidence of this.

This chart shows that Reagan’s legacy was because living standards in the US were hit more under Nixon and Carter, and actually stabilised under Reagan. This chart and this outcome were in large part because they had good quality inflation and prosperity indicators.

When Reagan came to power, the US had long had monthly inflation figures for most big cities and even had regional indices. However, in the first years of Reagan they improved their inflation indices by revising the way housing was measured. This allowed them to apply counter-inflationary policies while having their finger on the pulse of the people’s economic life.

On behalf of LWM I am currently pressing the UK Statistics Authority to look at what can be learned from the system of US inflation indices.

History often seems to repeat itself, first time as tragedy, second time as farce. A government presiding over austerity that looses track of prices as they are felt across the country, would be a farce none of us would want to see. The coalition needs to allow the best inflation indices to be put in place and allow it the priority it deserves.

Andrew Lydon

Regional Prosperity & Inflation Project

 

Finditinbirmingham.com: re-launching the local economy?

Three days ago as I entered a rather impressive marquee I was greeted by hundreds of councillors, businessmen and influential individuals, all buzzing about the launch of the cities new procurement website: finditinbirmingham.com.

Based upon the massively successful finditinsandwell.com, the website aims to relocalise procurement by showcasing services offered by Birmingham based businesses, encouraging networking and providing ongoing support. In this way it is hoped to strengthen the regional economy as money recirculates in the area, creating local job and training opportunities.

The scale of the launch quite clearly demonstrated the Council’s dedication to the initiative, with Lead Councillor Mike Whitby making the opening speech. The need to revitalise the cities exports, redirect some of the councils £3.5billion public procurement budget and to expand the cities economy as a viable alternative to London formed key elements of Councillor Whitby’s speech.  He concluded that Birmingham has the potential to become a world class supply chain possessing a rich variety of local jobs, skills and businesses.

Stuart Horton, project manager of finditinbirmingham.com, went on to mention the further benefits of relocalising the city’s business community, including potential CO2 and transport savings and the sustainability of forging face-to-face business relationships.

The last speech delivered by Tony Deep, owner of East End Foods, provided an inspirational account of the growth of a grassroots Birmingham business. Established in the 1960s and now a globally relevant company, East End Foods have recently started redeveloping the old HP sauce site in Aston. They are hoping to revitalise the area by building a new warehouse and cash and carry, with plans for a 14-storey hotel and a food technology centre also in the pipeline. The aim is to create local jobs and develop new skills, with Mr Deep cheerfully declaring ‘you can very much find me in Birmingham!’

The success and grandeur of the launch of finditinbirmingham.com left me feeling extremely optimistic about the projects potential. The site has already attracted 1500 members and hopes to increase this number to 5000 by next year. If successes are equal that of finditinsandwell.com, which now has 7000 members, and the City Council continue the same level of support and commitment then perhaps we are truly one step closer to a Localised West Midlands.

Anna Watson

A refreshing take on the cost of 'efficiency' – public debt as investment

Back in November I wrote on our website about the Trades Unions Council conference I attended for LWM at which, to the frustration of the audience and speakers, the Labour minister and MP present seemed entirely unable to address the relevance of intelligent public spending (debt as investment) to alleviate recession and generate economic prosperity. As we progress towards the election, it is increasingly and depressingly clear that rather than any serious investigation of how public investment can be channelled to rebuild and future-proof our economy (a la Green New Deal, for example), the major parties are falling over themselves to promise cuts in public spending, regardless of the economic impacts.

So this arrival in my inbox today is refreshing. My one quibble with Impact Measurement relates to the language of efficiency. To us, efficiency in public spending is a good thing, IF it’s truly efficient in the long term and in the whole system. As Impact Measurement rightly suggest, the public sector’s efficiency drives are modelled on those of the private sector and are rarely more than a short term financial saving, leading to a longer term loss. But we should reclaim the word ‘efficiency’ to mean what it really means….

Karen

The real impact on jobs and the economy of ‘efficiency’ savings

We have all heard politicians telling us that “This investment will regenerate the community and create x number of jobs for the local economy.” Strangely when ‘efficiency’ is on the agenda the reverse seems not to be true.

However we can show you the real impact of both reducing costs and spending outside the economy on jobs, and wealth in a region. In a groundbreaking piece of work we combined two economic impact models to generate a more meaningful way to measure the impact of public spending on the economy of the North East of England. What’s more you can go and try it for yourself as well.

The scenario below reduced public sector spending by 5% in 2010 and then 10% in 2011 and 2012. The model suggests that in addition to any direct job losses in the public sector this would result in the loss of an additional 11,800 jobs in the North East.

[Click on image to see larger version]. However if at the same time we change the pattern of our spending so that we spend 3% in 2010, 5% 2011, and 10% 2012 within the region, then the possible job losses are more than halved to just under 5000. We argue that this is only by using objective measurement of the impacts of political decision making that we can assess whether politicians are doing a good or bad job.

If you want to try it for yourself or to download the full report then go to www.impactmeasurement.net

Adam Wilkinson