A year on from the banking crash the stock market is riding high and the Bank of England confirms that the economy is coming out of recession
But something still does not feel right.
Jobs are still being lost in construction, firms that toughed it out for a year or two have finally had to call it a day. Even outside construction, it looks just as bad, and many of the sectors that are suffering are big construction customers. Retailers are struggling, as consumers remain unsure whether or not to believe those who are talking about the green shoots of recovery.
Matters have not been helped by staggering incompetence from the public sector, which would struggle to run a tombola stall let alone run a country.
Take the shambles with the college rebuilding programme, which has been spectacularly mismanaged by the Learning and Skills Council. Instead of the promised 50-plus projects, only 13 are going ahead – all with reduced budgets, all subject to redesign, and all chipping away at the industry’s profit margins.
In light of the state of the public finances, as a taxpayer I can only be grateful that such incompetence might save a few quid. But with the record of the right hand of government not knowing what the left hand is doing (unless it’s extracting a foot from its mouth) I am sure that programmes will get started, and then be cut with the money half spent and totally wasted.
Mr Brown spoke recently on his pledge to cut out waste in the public sector, after telling us how efficient the public sector became after the Gershon review in 2005. But I’m sure we could all quite easily find a list totalling a few billion pounds of savings in no time.
To compound matters, a year on from the banking crisis nothing in that area seems to have changed other than the banks are now capitalised by the taxpayer and we have to sit and watch them operate with little regard to the public interest. For first-time buyers, borrowing money today is, in real terms, three times more expensive than two years ago, yet the cost of funds to the banks is only twice as expensive.
Meanwhile, the rebuilding of balance sheets is going on apace, with the profits giving some handsome bonuses along the way. One beneficiary of this has been the volume housebuilders. As their balance sheets collapsed, no bank wanted to become a house builder as well as a bank, so they renegotiated their borrowing facilities when in other times they might have appointed a receiver. In the end, housebuilders will come out of this quite well as they snaffle up land on the cheap and rebuild the value of their land banks. So it’s not all bad then.
Chris Blythe is chief executive of the CIOB