UK Economy
UK economy added more net jobs in past 4 years than rest of the EU combined
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Sep 4, 2014 - 4:31 AM

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The UK economy added more net jobs in the past 4 years than the rest of the EU combined according to data which  coincided with news Wednesday from the Office for National Statistics that the 2009 recession was not as bad as previously thought while the subsequent recovery was stronger than previously believed.

According to The Financial Times when the rest of the EU28 is viewed as a single bloc, it has lost 770,000 people from the workforce while the UK has seen 1.6m extra people in jobs. Of the other EU members, only Germany added more, with 1.7m.

In the period Q1 2010-Q1 2014, the Eurozone lost 1.5m jobs.

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, told the FT that many of the jobs reflect the benefits of a flexible labour market, “much of the new employment is ‘insecure’ [such as] zero-hours contracts or low-productivity self-employment.”

On Wednesday in a report [pdf], the Office for National Statistics said that the 2009 recession was shallower and the recovery since 2010 has been stronger than previously thought with changes to methodology used by statistics agency showing gross domestic product (GDP) shrinking by 6% compared with the previous "peak-to-trough" estimate of 7.2%.

Growth in each year between 2009 and 2013 was also revised up by an average 0.4 percentage points, mainly as a result of faster growth in investment.

The ONS said that the positive balance arises largely because many of the methodological changes introduced in the National Accounts capture additional economic activity. This additional expenditure may have previously been classified differently – for instance spending on research & development was previously categorised as intermediate consumption but is now part of fixed investment – or excluded entirely (including spending on activities such as illegal drugs and prostitution. In other cases, figures are now estimated using a better method or data source (including new information for the Non-Profit Institutions Serving Households (NPISH) sector, as well as changes to some elements of household expenditure).

Over the period 1997 to 2012, the compound average annual growth rate has increased by 0.1 percentage points, from 4.2% in the previously published data to 4.3% in the present vintage of data."

The CBI, the UK’s leading business lobby group, in a report today forecasts 3.0% growth in 2014 and 2.7% in 2015, unchanged from May. Between the first quarter of 2013 and the second quarter of 2014, the UK has grown by 0.7% on average per quarter, the fastest rate in the G7. This strong pace of growth has been bolstered by rising business and consumer confidence, improving credit conditions and reductions in uncertainty over demand.

But after the recent period of acceleration, growth is expected to steady in the second half of this year, 0.7% (Q3) and 0.6% (Q4), as the initial positive impact of those factors wears off. This easing of momentum also reflects the continued weakness of productivity and slow wage growth, but this will gradually improve in 2015, with average earnings expected to grow by 1.0% this year and by 2.4% next year.

The CBI says one explanation for the weakness in productivity is that tight credit conditions have held back business investment growth. Despite being 10.6% higher than a year ago, business investment is still 16% below its pre-crisis peak. But it is expected to pick up by 10.5% this year and by a further 7.8% in 2015 as uncertainty about demand continues to fade and financing conditions become more supportive.

John Cridland, CBI director-general, said: "The UK’s recovery is on solid ground, with our quarterly growth on average outstripping G7 competitors over the last year. For the rest of this year, we expect growth to get onto a more even keel and the recovery to become further entrenched next year.

"Business investment has been growing better than expected so far this year, but it still has a lot of catching up to do to get back to its pre-crisis level.

"Although hundreds of thousands of new jobs are being created in the economy, there is little upward pressure on starter salaries outside of a few hot spots, such as in parts of the IT sector. For longer-term staff though, awards are often a little higher. We expect wages to pick up across the board next year as the recovery continues.

"UK businesses are still facing a significant amount of uncertainty, with the forthcoming Scottish referendum, the general election next year and the debate on Britain’s place in the European Union. In the wider world, geopolitical risks are growing, with heightened tensions in Ukraine and the Middle East. This brings with it the possibility of upward pressure on commodity prices and on inflation, and also increased global financial market instability.

"Growth is firmly on track, but with the external risk register rising, as we go into the party conference season, businesses need politicians to focus on the UK’s long-term economic security, not just on winning the political race."

The CBI says that without a more significant pick-up in in wage growth over the remainder of the year, and with CPI inflation set to stay below 2%, the CBI maintains its view that the first interest rate rise will happen in the first quarter of 2015.

With recent strong employment growth and steady falls in unemployment, the CBI expects unemployment to average 6.4% this year (2.07 million), falling below the two million mark in 2015 to 1.92m (5.9%).

House price inflation is expected to rise to 9.5% this year (from 3.5% in 2013) and 5.3% next year.

Net trade is unlikely to provide much of a boost to GDP growth, as strong domestic demand buoys demand for imports, broadly offsetting any gains from increased exports. Prolonged weak growth in the Eurozone is also likely to continue to weigh on the UK’s export performance. Exports are predicted to grow by 3.9% next year and imports by 3.5%.

The long-term investment challenge facing the UK economy

The CBI says business investment fundamentally boosts the growth potential of the economy. But although business investment has been growing strongly over the last year, it is still 16% below its pre-crisis peak. And its share of real GDP is 8.5% compared with 10.1% in the first quarter of 2008.

More broadly, the UK’s track record on investment has historically been poor compared with its competitors.

Total fixed investment as a share of nominal GDP has been among the lowest in the G7 since the 1970s, at just 14% over 2010-13 (against an average of close to 20% across the G7). While partly accounted for by private sector investment, this also reflects a long history of low residential and government investment relative to other advanced countries.

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