If two consecutive quarters of declining GDP is most economists’ definition of a recession; how come only one quarter’s growth at 0.1% seems good enough to mark the end of it?
Regardless of the semantics; yesterday’s announcement of the provisional return of economic growth does illustrate the remaining fragility of the UK economy with a “double dip” back into recession still a real possibility.
Kenneth Clarke and Peter Mandelson’s highly entertaining encounter on Channel 4 News last night just went to highlight that the current battleground is not so much around whether or how much to reign in public spending, but how to finesse the timing of cuts to best insulate the recovery.
There is significant scope to drive greater efficiency from all public sector activities. Sure, we should look hard at the major capital programmes - driving for effective supply chain management and combining multiple programmes across the public sector to deliver more with less – but the real opportunity is to be found within the revenue account. Currently, 15% of the footprint of NHS estate is not-used or surplus to requirements. When you think that this exceeds the total footprint of Tesco UK, it is plain to see that the challenges are not just technical ones, they are cultural and organisational.
So Messrs Clarke, Mandelson (and Cable) need not completely despair even in these straightened times. With real stakeholder engagement and a willingness to embrace public:public and public:private service solutions; built assets, (which typically make up the second highest cost after staff), have the potential to deliver value and enable the delivery of better public services more efficiently.
Graham Kean is head of public at consultants EC Harris LLP.