More stable Government but a weak economic outlook offers a mixed picture

Posted by Liverpool and Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 30th, Jun

More stable Government but a weak economic outlook offers a mixed picture

The “confidence and supply” deal struck between the Conservatives and the DUP this week wasn’t to everyone’s political taste but at least it gives us some semblance of stability.

Prime Minister Theresa May now has a working majority in Parliament, at least on the big votes such as the Queen’s Speech and the Budget later this year.

Businesses in the Liverpool city region and across the UK have had enough turmoil over the past year to last a lifetime.

Ever since, what was to many, a surprise result from last summer’s Referendum to leave the EU the uncertainty has been unending - and uncertainty is bad for business.

Britain has now entered into Brexit negotiations with the EU and a more secure Government can give that process the focus it needs.

Anaemic growth

We have seen the uncertainty reflected this week in forecasts from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

The BCC has slightly upgraded its UK growth forecast for 2017 from 1.4% to 1.5%. Its expectations for growth in 2018 and 2019 remain unchanged at 1.3% and 1.5% respectively.

However, despite this small upgrade it bemoans the likelihood that over the next few years UK growth will remain anaemic – and well below historical averages.

The upgrade is as a result of stronger global outlook growth, including in key markets for UK businesses.

While lower sterling has had mixed results of late, it remains likely to boost short-term export activity this year.

Port offers hope

Any upturn in the global outlook could provide some good news here for us in the Liverpool city region.

Liverpool2, Peel’s £400m deep-water container terminal on the banks of the Mersey is now online.

It is looking to grab a significant slice of the imports that currently come through the southern English ports. A rise in global trade makes that job easier.

That’s not just about hundreds of jobs at the Port of Liverpool itself but potentially many more in the wider logistics sector across the city region.

Weak spending

But the data from the BCC still remains a worry. Weakness in sterling is helping exporters but it is only a matter of time before the rise in input costs starts to have an effect.

Wage growth in real terms is expected to remain negative over the next few years, the BCC says.

As a consequence, consumer spending, a key driver of UK growth, is forecast to remain persistently weak.

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC, doesn’t offer much cheer when he says: “Over recent months, many of the businesses I speak to have expressed cautious optimism for their own prospects, but remain wary about the growth prospects of the UK economy as a whole.

“In the wake of an inconclusive General Election, that wariness is set to increase – as is the sense that the UK economy is merely treading water.

“With inflationary pressures expected to intensify and consumer spending forecast to slow, this outlook is likely to persist in the near term.”

Devolution is key

Which makes it all the more important that the Government also reaffirms its commitment to regional growth and an industrial strategy.

That needs to be back up with real spending commitments to the Northern Powerhouse, particularly on issues such as transport and digital infrastructure.

The deal with the DUP sees £1.5bn to boost the Northern Ireland economy. The English regions needs a similar commitment.

This was summed up a few days ago by Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, who said:  “It is absolutely vital that the Prime Minister reaffirms her commitment to devolution and explicitly recognises the important role of city regions in driving growth and rebalancing the UK economy.

“Initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse mean nothing unless they are matched by a significant transfer of resources and power from the centre.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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