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We can't afford to shoot the messenger

November 29, 2016

 

Last week saw the first and last Autumn Statement delivered by Chancellor Phillip Hammond.

 

It’s not that I foresee his imminent demise – it’s just the government finally acknowledged the more sensible option in future is to do the preliminary Budget itself at this time of year rather than try to portray things as a seasonal update.

 

That procedural change was one of the very few tangible things to come out of the proceedings. Indeed, there was probably more meat left on a Thanksgiving turkey carcass than in Hammond’s speech. Then again, that’s not entirely his fault.

 

The underlying message is that Brexit (the name still sounds like a crispbread to me) is an aberration for the Treasury that will cost £22bn or thereabouts. To put that into perspective, every household stands to lose out by £1,250 a year – or around £25 a week – according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

 

No sense of shock then that the Chancellor confirmed he was abandoning any idea of a budget surplus by the end of the decade. In fact, we’re set to get stung for almost £60 billion over the coming five years as a result of the referendum vote to leave the EU.

 

All in all, the grim picture painted by the IFS is one of falling living standards, including no increase in real wages for at least another decade.

 

Predictably, those who backed Brexit are volubly rubbishing these estimates as the rantings of less than independent, liberal-minded think-tank with an agenda.

 

Similar allegations of bias were levelled by sections of the pro-Leave press against the Resolution Foundation who projected that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head – a measure of monetary value of all the finished goods and services - is now expected to rise by a paltry 6.8% by 2021.

 

Balderdash say the disbelievers, regardless of the inconvenient fact that pretty much the same doom and gloom message is coming from the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) – the government’s own advisory body - and who have slashed growth forecasts and predicted higher than previously expected borrowing.

 

Strangely, all this official confirmation has done is to prompt flat-earthers such as the normally super-sanguine tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg to contend that “experts, soothsayers and astrologers are all in much the same category”.

 

For me, this rubbishing of expertise has overtones of the nonsense spouted about the role of High Court judges a while back. The pronouncement of bald statements is no substitute for reasoned argument in senior level politics.

 

As a well-respected commentator writing in the Financial Times observed: “Brexiters hate this message and so have decided to attack the messenger. But two points are worth bearing in mind. First, like any forecaster, the OBR has got things wrong in the past. But it has, if anything, tended to be too optimistic on future output rather than too pessimistic. Second, the OBR’s assumptions now put it among the more optimistic forecasters.”

 

I agree. So, shoot me.

 

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Regional roles questioned

 

Timing is everything. As such, I thought a high-powered debate hosted by Business Insider on the same day as the Autumn Statement would likely yield a few topical insights.

 

As it happens, those who gathered at Bay Campus to hear a panel of movers and shakers discuss the future role of the Swansea Bay City Region were treated to something a bit more tentative in nature.

 

Discussion centred on whether current aims and objectives were focused in the right place. This drew a response from Swansea Council leader Rob Stewart who felt obliged to spell out a few priorities from his seat in the audience.

 

What struck me was that the panellists between them represented interests employing around 35,000 people and spending power totalling £4bn or thereabouts – 85% of which would be salaries and wages.

 

Oddly, none of them spoke about their impact in terms of purchasing and procurement. It was quite an omission given the calls for a better business perspective.

 

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Passion for the business

 

The strapline on my social media account states that I stick my nose into other people’s business. It’s true.

 

One case in point is AB Glass, based in Fforestfach, who are specialists in window design and manufacture. You’ve probably walked by a shiny multi-storey building somewhere in the UK and seen their product without knowing it.

 

Alan Brayley, the driving force behind the firm, started off as a man with van.

 

After a quarter of a century applying what he calls “a bit of vision” and a lot of hard work, he now heads up a thriving award-winning operation with a skilled workforce and a healthy order book.

 

I was lucky to be among the guests at Friday night’s 25 year celebration to hear the man himself talk about his passion for the business and people that have made the firm a success.

 

Congratulations to Alan and the team. We need more like you guys.

 

 

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