So now it’s official (apparently). We knew things were bad, but they’re worse than we thought. According to the Office for National Statistics, productivity in the UK in 2016, measured as output per hour, was 15.1 per cent below the average for the rest of the G7.
Philip Wales, who heads the productivity department of the ONS, says in his latest report that Britain’s lower level of productivity was evident across all industries. It was 9 per cent below the rate in Italy, nearly 22 per cent below the US, more than 22 per cent lower than in France and some 25.6 per cent less than in Germany.
In economic terms, this is seriously bad news. With Brexit causing increasing uncertainty across industry and the City, all we needed was confirmation that we are slipping further and further down the ratings. Britain can only live up to its billing as a global trading nation and a beacon of light for free market principles if it does what it does better, quicker and cheaper than its rivals.
But the truth is that we are falling behind, and falling behind at an accelerating rate. Growth in the UK is now at the bottom of the league tables of both the EU and the G7. While we argue about the size of our divorce bill from Brussels, we are losing the trade war and could well end up three or four years from now struggling to meet our national and international commitments.
As a former Treasury adviser told the Today Programme this morning, the British economy is small, open and vulnerable, and if we are to remain any kind of power in the brave new world that Brexiteers tell us is our destiny, we have to operate at maximum efficiency. Plainly, this is not the case. With the pound some 18 per cent down on its aggregate value on Referendum Day, and with a further sharp drop expected when we finally quite the EU, we must further overcome the fact that many British workers aren’t up to it and that business leaders have lost the plot.
It doesn’t matter any more whether you voted Leave or Remain. What matters now is getting our exit right and preparing the UK for the trials to come. But the Tories are useless and Labour is worse. Was there ever a more inopportune time for the economy to reveal itself as a loser?
There are so many factors at work. Brexit is happening primarily because millions of British people, mostly in low-paid jobs, were fed up with the high levels of immigration the country has experienced over the last 15 years. Yet without those same immigrants, the economy is bound to stumble. It is they, more than any other single group, who have prevented the NHS from collapsing and in general kept the show on the road. Such is the extent of the skills gap in the UK between supply and demand that it is only the hiring of educated workers from Europe that keeps us going.
It is not the fault of British workers that more than half of them are ignorant of what industry and the City require of them. It is the fault of the state, managed since forever by the Tories and Labour. When you know nothing, you don’t have a lot to contribute, which is why so many UK citizens fill low-paid positions and regard getting through the day with as little effort as possible as their ultimate – indeed, only achievable – goal in life.
There is no use saying to them, get off your lazy backsides! They haven’t been educated properly. Some can barely read and write. They have no special skills. I don’t know what Polish plumbers and Lithuanian electricians think about their British co-workers, but I doubt it would be flattering.
Still, we are told, we don’t have to worry. Apprenticeships are coming back, and public housing. Ten years from now, or 20, once these “revolutionary” advances have bedded in, it will be a whole different story. Better than that, the freedom that Global Britain will acquire once we leave the EU will ensure that Made in the UK is once again the marque against which others are measured.
Made in France, Made in Germany, Made In China, Made in the USA: pah! British workers, released from their European bondage, will out-shine and out perform the lot of them.
Do you believe that? I don’t.
The way things are, Britain is in decline. We all know it. The evidence is beyond dispute. And if we cut back on the number of EU immigrants, things will only get worse faster. It is time for our nation to take stock. And then to take action. Theresa May and her cronies have no idea how to make Britain better. They are a busted flush. Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell would take us back to the 1970s, or even the 1950s. And the Lib Dems, gawd bless them, are an irrelevance. To whom should we turn for guidance? I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that question. Perhaps, dear readers, you can come up with some names. But whoever they are, we need to find them fast. It is not just the EU’s clock that is ticking.