Holding government to account
Benjamin Disraeli is reported to have coined the phrase 'lies, damned lies and statistics'. Last week's GDP figures certainly attracted plenty of attention and, criticism in some quarters for confirming the UK is supposedly back in recession, when a raft of business surveys, including EEF's have painted a rather more positive picture.
One thing is for certain though and that is whether we are in negative territory or not, any stronger growth still seems as far away as at any time since the beginning of the recovery. This brought into focus further criticism of the government's purported lack of strategy, albeit wider than economic policy, from the Public Accounts Select Committee.
The Committee said it remained concerned at the absence of National Strategy at the heart of government which is a point very similar to our comments before and after the Budget, namely that the government needs an economic strategy to promote growth that matches the focus and clarity on getting the deficit down.
They also suggested government should produce an annual National Strategy Report to Parliament, to allow it to be held to account for its performance against its overall strategy. We made our own suggestion for accountability arrangements in our Budget submission: that the National Audit Office should monitor the performance of the government against its economic strategy in the same way as the Office for Budget Responsibility monitors the government's fiscal performance against the Fiscal Mandate.
EEF believes these two ideas could be married up so that at every Budget statement the National Audit Office would produce an annual assessment of the government's economic performance against a series of indicators. For example, under the cost of doing business by 2015 Britain should have below average EU industrial electricity prices, the most competitive tax system in the G20 and should see a net reduction of 10% in the burden of complying with domestic regulation. Another measurement could include the performance of UK Regions such as North Wales and how much inward investment we attract.
By being measured against such indicators we would see true accountability for the government on its economic performance. This would ensure it is held to account in parliament on an annual basis, not just at the ballot box every five years.