Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Britain’s real planning scandal

Figures released today in HBF’s latest Housing Pipeline report reveal that approvals for just 32,900 homes across England were granted in Q3 of this year, a 10% decrease on the same period last year. This number is half that required to build the homes needed to meet demand – and half the permissions granted each quarter in 2006 and 2007.

These shocking statistics come on the same day that the media are reporting the awful experiences for those suffering homelessness at Christmas and a report from a Select Committee of MPs saying that the Government’s planning reforms are too biased in favour of developers at the expense of the environment.

The MPs biggest gripe appears to be the default ‘Yes’ that is built into the proposed National Planning Policy Framework.  What they have failed to miss is that if a local authority adopts a local plan, there is no presumption in favour of development – the local plan takes precedent. 

The local plan led system is the essence of localism.  Local councils have been required to maintain an up to date local plan since 2004.  However, eight years on, two-thirds still have no such plan in place.  Why is this?

Local plans require local councils to undertake housing assessment studies to identify what housing demand and housing need is expected over the plan period.  Once they have done that, they have to allocate a credible amount of land to meet those housing requirements.  The reality is that many Council’s do not want to face up to this challenge.  They don’t want to make the difficult decisions about where we build the homes of the future.

If there is no local plan in place, councils can throw out major planning applications on the grounds that they are ‘premature’, i.e that the applications must come after the local plan.  If the local plan does not come forward, nor can those planning applications.  It is a loophole NIMBY councils have exploited time and time again to throw out legitimate plans for development.

The consequence of this action has been a substantial fall in planning approvals, as reported by the HBF.  It is time the Government put a stop to it and this is exactly what the National Planning Policy Framework will do.  Those councils that do not adopt a plan will find the presumption in favour kicking in.  My guess is that at that moment, councils will stop dragging their heels and start working on their local plans.

The Localism agenda gives huge powers to local councils.  The NPPF will ensure that they use those powers responsibility.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Having it two ways with Housing

The Government’s Housing Strategy announced yesterday is an example of Coalition policy making at its best and its worst.  Its presentation was also a welcome improvement from a Government that has lost its way in media management in recent months - Cameron and Clegg speaking as one, supported by an articulate spokesman in Grant Shapps who spent the day touring the TV studios and rebutting his critics on the Blogosphere and Twitter.

The mortgage indemnity scheme is a nod to Tory champions of home ownership, while the bung to do up empty homes has long been a Lib Dem priority.  Lib Dems can point to land auctions which have been developed by their CentreForum think tank; Tories to the FirstBuy scheme which helps First-Time Buyers onto the property ladder.  The Tory policy to extend the Right to Buy has been tempered by a Lib Dem sensitivity to spend the receipts on building new social homes.   In doing so, the Coalition has framed a radical, comprehensive and innovative set of policies to promote housing and housing growth.  

The most welcome aspect of yesterday’s announcement is the realisation by both Tory and Lib Dem leaders of the central importance of the housing market to the wider economy.  As with every recession since the 1930’s, it might have been a Housing Bust that got us into this mess, but it will be a Housing Boom that will get ‘Britain back to work’.  When people feel good about the money in their home, they are generally quite happy to spend on holidays, new kitchens and other consumer durables.

The plan to underwrite mortgages comes straight out of Roosevelt’s New Deal.  The beauty of that initiative was that it enabled the Federal Government to subsidise lower mortgages at no cost to the taxpayer (so long as things didn’t go wrong.)  It helped trigger a housing boom that became American suburbia.  But it was also the first in a series of events that would ultimately lead to the sub-prime catastrophe.  The scheme proposed by the Coalition might be a short term mechanism to stimulate housing demand, but it is not a solution to the real problem which is a chronic under supply of new housing.

And it is here, on the supply side reforms, where the proposals look weak and confused trying to appease both its localism rhetoric and the economic reality.  The Government say they want to promote “a wave of larger-scale projects…. where there is clear local support and private sector appetite".  The problem is where are these sites?  Where communities want more housing development, there are no investors; and where builders want to build, there is normally an army of NIMBY objectors.  By trying to have it both ways, there is a danger that the Coalition will end up pleasing no one and delivering nothing.  Ultimately, the Government might have to decide whether it is on the side of the Parish Councillor or the First Time Buyer.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mobilising the silent majority

Forty Shillings recently hosted a breakfast seminar with Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP) and Com Res on how developers can mobilise the silent majority on major planning applications.

At the seminar, we revealed some opinion research that had been carried out by ComRes exclusively for this event.  The research showed that:

  • 75% of Councillors believe that the silent majority is overlooked in planning decisions
  • 82% of Councillors believe consultation only capture the views of the most vocal people
  • 64% believe there is a lack of robust evidence of public opinion
  • 46% are likely to more swayed by the opinions of local constituents than national or local planning policy
  • 52% believe the National Planning Policy Framework means local authorities will have less say in local planning decisions
  • 46% believe the National Planning Policy Framework will be adopted similar to its current form.
In the age of localism, developers need to stop treating consultation as a tick boxing exercise or a fluffy extra, but as an essential part of building public support through the planning process. 

A report of the seminar, including the ComRes findings is available at 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Delivering regeneration

Founding Director of Forty Shillings, Wyn Evans, will be speaking on strategies for engagement and localism at RTPI’s Regeneration Conference on 8 December 2011.  More information is available here.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Guest Blog: The political response to the riots

Jayant Chavda

The year is 1985, and a teenager of Indian origin pesters his parents for over six months to allow him to buy a pair of the latest Adidas trainers with money earned from a paper round to maintain street credibility amongst his classmates at Alperton High School in North West London. Fast forward to 2011, and the person in question eagerly looks forward to receiving a new smartphone even though in technological terms he has only just left the eighties by recently discarding his use of the Sony Walkman. And the moral of this introduction ? Even pretentious, "educated" gits such as yours truly, who affect to rise above the depredations of capitalism, cannot escape the allure of materialism.

So it is any wonder that a minority of the public, who for years have been led to believe by the political and media establishment that the sole purpose in life is to earn and own, took advantage of the opportunities during the urban riots last month to help themselves to a flat screen LCD television or two ? The Prime Minister had no truck with any reflection and analysis of the events. For him, it was "criminality, pure and simple." And this coming from a man who was a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club at Oxford, which regularly trashed restaurants in the city.

Leaving aside Dave's utter hypocrisy, it is easy to see why he wanted to avoid any detailed examination of why people would wish to riot and loot knowing full well that they were highly likely to be caught on camera and subsequently prosecuted. For he would have to account for the disastrous consequences of his economic strategy with severe cuts in public spending affecting youth services and educational maintenance allowances.

He would have to account for why his government has no jobs programme for young people when there are nearly a million of them out of work (20 per cent of the labour force). And he would have to account for the fact that net economic growth in the last nine months has been a pathetic 0.2 per cent despite George Osborne's absurd belief that austerity measures have restored confidence in the UK economy.

Instead of serious thought, Mr Cameron has given us soundbites ("some parts of society are not just broken, but frankly sick"), gimmicks (taking away benefits from those involved in the riots), and red herrings (health and safety laws and the Human Rights Act were to blame for the riots). I am ashamed to share the same alma mater as this balsa wood of a politician.

Thankfully, the Leader of the Opposition took a much more calm and considered approach in his response to the events, and went beyond the easy, populist condemnation of the Prime Minister. In a speech at his old school, Haverstock Comprehensive, on 15th August, Ed Miliband said:

"The politician's instinct, reach for new legislation, appoint a new adviser, wheel out your old prejudices, will not meet the public's demand for real answers and deep rooted, lasting solutions.

"… Why are there people who think it's okay to loot, vandalise and terrorise their own neighbourhoods ? Who seem to owe no loyalty to their communities ? Who think they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from doing this ? The small minority who did this are not one race, one community, one age group. They are British people from Brixton to Gloucester, Croydon to Manchester.

"And to answer what has happened, we have to state the most inconvenient truth of all: yes, people are responsible for their actions. But we all bear a share of responsibility for the society we create. Governments, Labour and Conservative. Powerful elites in politics, business and the media. And all of us - me and you as well."

Mr Miliband was right to call for a public inquiry on the riots in his speech (which the Government eventually agreed to undertake), and he was especially right in re-iterating his call for greater responsibility at the top of society, reminding everyone of the "greedy, selfish and immoral" behaviour of bankers, MPs, and newspapers which hacked phones – "We hear lots of talk now about role models for communities, but what role model has been provided by the elites of our society ?"

The Leader of the Opposition also acknowledged New Labour's failures but did not mention the biggest, which was its inability to reduce the gap between the rich and poor, the fundamental reason Britain remains a deeply divided and unfair society. The likes of Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson were only to happy to suck up to the wealthy and powerful, whilst their colleagues (particularly David Blunkett and Dr John Reid) were only too happy to suck up to the right-wing press with "tough" rhetoric on law and order. It was a ghastly era, which Ed Miliband firmly wants to leave behind.

The riots exposed a number of things: the savagely unequal nature of Britain, which has led to widespread alienation; the lack of job opportunities for young people across the country; the rottenness of our political and media establishment with their lazy calls for water cannons and punitive sanctions against the rioters; and the utter inadequacy of our beloved prime minister.

The Leader of the Opposition may not have yet resonated with the public and he may have not have found the correct solutions to the current crisis, which is at its heart a crisis of capitalism, but he is at least asking the right questions. He needs to continue challenging the conventional wisdom in a constructive way, and develop a genuine alternative to neo-liberalism which is now a well and truly busted political model.

Jayant Chavda is a freelance political consultant and a former Labour Party researcher.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In defence of the National Planning Policy Framework

Middle England is in revolt and the issue that is attracting their fury is planning.  Or more precisely, the Government’s proposed new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and its presumption in favour of sustainable development. 

The Editor of Country Life, Clive Aslet, claims that “the object (of the NPPF) is to let development rip through those parts of Britain that aren’t formally protected as National Parks or part of the Green Belt. This is most of what us still regard as our green and pleasant land – ‘all fields, high hedges, and deep-rutted lanes’, as George Eliot put it.”

Shaun Spiers from CPRE adds, that “the presumption in favour of development is clearly about development, not sustainability. The message for local authorities is ‘build, build, build.’”

Government Ministers appear to be at war with the countryside’s leading advocates.  The complaints from groups such as the National Trust and CPRE, hitherto seen as part of the true blue brigade, are dismissed by Ministers as “a carefully choreographed smear campaign by Left-wingers based within the national headquarters of pressure groups."

The Countryside Alliance’s Dylan Sharpe, says “It's time to call an armistice and for all parties to get back round the table.”

It’s funny, they weren’t calling for that when the Government ripped up the regional strategies and introduced localism.  Some 220,000 homes that were planned under the previous Government, have now been scrapped as a consequence of the abolition of the regional plans.

The reality is that no local authority that puts in place a local plan has anything to fear by the NPPF and the presumption in favour of sustainable development.  What the Government are trying to do is prevent a repeat of the 2004 Planning Act.  Between 2004 and 2010, despite requirements to do so, just 13% of councils put in place a local plan.  If you believe in localism and a plan led system, it requires a local authority to have a plan.  You can’t allow them to drag their heels in the hope that difficult decisions will go away.

Aslet is wrong when he says that “a carefully evolved system of checks and balances has been junked in favour of a presumption that big development will get its way.”  The NPPF is an attempt to ensure that a system of checks and balances remains in place under localism, and that councils face up to their new responsibilities. 

In opposition, the Conservatives always said they wanted more development and to build more homes.  They argued that the problem with the top-down regional strategies was that it built the wrong homes in the wrong places, where they were not wanted.  Their solution was localism.

There are legitimate debates to be had about whether we concrete over greenfields or whether we cram more people into our built up areas; whether we create sustainable new settlements or whether we disperse development over wider areas.  Under localism, it will be for local communities and their community leaders to grapple with these issues and policy dilemmas. 

This could result in a loss of greenfields in certain areas, but that is only because those communities have decided that is a more desirable outcome than cramming people into high rise, small boxes in our town centres.  

The rural countryside lobby is quite happy to take the bits of localism that empowers people to say no, but they don’t want councils to face up to the responsibility that goes along with having these new localist powers.  The NPPF does just that.

Ministers, stick to your guns.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Riots and regeneration

In July 1981, the streets of Toxteth erupted into violence and rioting.  The immediate political reaction, as this week, was one of condemnation.  But out of the riot came the regeneration policies that we today associate with Margaret Thatcher’s decade in office.

Michael Heseltine, the Secretary of State for the Environment, temporarily moved to Liverpool to see for himself what had gone wrong with that great City.  He concluded that much of the problem lay with squabbling local authorities and a municipal disdain for private enterprise.  What was needed was political leadership, better infrastructure and the freedom to allow the entrepreneurial spirit to flourish. 

The record of the policy initiatives that emerged - Urban Development Corporations, City Challenge, and the International Garden Festivals (to clean up derelict brownfield areas) - is mixed, but there is no doubt that they brought some remarkable successes with the regeneration of Liverpool’s Albert Dock and London’s Docklands standing out as the most iconic.  What’s more, the 1980’s marked a turning point for many of our provincial cities from post-industrial decline to one of urban renaissance - people wanted to live in our city centres again.

In the 1990’s and 2000s, the number of regeneration Quango’s proliferated, public funding was spread too wide and thinly and micro-management replaced big picture leadership.  Public money went on masterplans and marketing, with the public sector setting out its visions and targets regardless of the commercial realities on the ground, and developers increasingly expected to pick up the tab for the costs of the infrastructure.  The introduction of the Coalition Government’s localism agenda swept away much of this nonsense, but with it the original virtues of Heseltine’s targeted regeneration policies.

Of course there are differences between what happened in Toxteth and Brixton thirty years ago and the events of the past week.  The images of hooded youths emerging from department stores with flat screen TVs and Nike trainers suggests that these disturbances were motivated by opportunism and personal gain.  Yet, something has gone terribly wrong.

The Right blame family breakdown, a proliferation of drug use and lenient sentences; the Left poverty and inequality.  Both point to educational underachievement, which has contributed to there being a million unemployed 16-25 year olds.

The events of the past week present the first big challenge for the Government’s policy of localism.  Do our municipal leaders have the ingenuity to provide a coherent response or will we see a patchwork of ‘knee jerk’ reactions?  Mr Cameron is already discovering that at times of crisis people look to their national leaders, not their local ones, and opinion polls show that the people haven’t been impressed with those leaders. 

The question now is how the Coalition responds?  What policies will emerge out of the ashes of last week’s riots?  Regeneration must be an important part of the answer.  The Coalition could do no worse than to reinvigorate Heseltine’s triple fix of Political leadership, Infrastructure and Entrepreneurial spirit – or what we might call the PIE strategy.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The end of the suburban high street?

The traditional high street is as much a British institution as the Sunday roast.  Yet like its culinary counterpart, it is one that is in decline.

A lot has been made about the impact of out of town shopping and the growth of the big supermarkets.   In the early 1990s around three quarters of all retail spend took place on the high street; by 2010, this had dropped to under 50%.  With the convenience of internet shopping this is likely to drop further to just 40% by 2014.  Local councils haven’t helped either by restricting cars or increasing the cost of car parking.

Last week, the Labour Party published a four point plan to ‘save Britain’s high streets’.  It follows the Coalition Government’s appointment of celebrity retail queen, Mary Portas, to review the same issue.  We will have to wait for the Portas review, but Labour’s four point plan of more regulatory powers for councils and a temporary VAT cut won’t prevent the inevitable.

For what we are witnessing is a fundamental shift in personal lifestyles that is transforming the retail business environment.   The typical national retailer is cutting its standard number of stores from 220 plus to less that ninety with many moving from the high street to out of town.

And it’s not just retail.  Of the 130 commercial office locations in London identified by the GLA, virtually none outside the well-established locations of central London have experienced any new office investment in the past twenty years. 

Not only are we are all travelling to out of town centres to do our shopping; we are not working in our surburban centres either.  We are just commuting through them by train or car, possibly picking up a newspaper, coffee or a microwave meal on route.

We need to redefine our town centres and make them relevant again.  The standard design of the long high street where people wonder down one side and come back the other seems to belong to a bygone age.  We don’t have the time to do that anymore. 

It’s not all gloom.  Some centres have established themselves as niche places attracting people for their cultural or leisure offer.   Peckham library, for example, has become a focal point and a genuine community hub attracting a wider offer and there are examples elsewhere of innovative traders coming together to host farmers’ markets and other events.  

As BCSC president Richard Akers said last week, “The issue is that high streets have to become more relevant to consumers.  Politicians don’t really address that point.”  The question is will Mary Portas?

What are your thoughts?  Do you think that the traditional high street is in terminal decline or is its outlook more favourable?  Do we need policies to support the high street or its decline some sort of inevitability?  And who are the best people to reinvent it – the public policy makers or community entrepreneurs?

Wyn Evans is Founding Director of Forty Shillings.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Full marks for the new national planning policy framework

Wyn Evans

The publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for consultation has been enthusiastically welcomed by the property and development industry.  And quite right too.  The thousands of pages of turgid, bureaucratic and inconsistent policy guidance of the former regime have been cast aside and replaced with a concise 50 page framework with one overriding objective – growth.

While the Localism Bill gave Britain’s Nimby brigade the tools to frustrate and oppose development, the NPPF will be the developers trump card.  Page after page reinforces the case for growth and development.  Councils will now need to demonstrate that their local plans are in line with the NPPF.  Those that don’t have a sound plan in place (and four fifths don’t at present) will be subject to the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

It was always the Government’s intention to bring in a national planning framework that was supportive of growth to balance the anti-development tendencies of the localism bill.  But the depth of the economic downturn and the Government’s priority to get the economy back on track has meant that the framework has a much stronger focus on economic development than would have been the case even twelve months ago.

The Ministers at CLG have played a blinder.  By establishing the practitioner’s advisory group to publish an initial draft, they paved the way for a pro-growth agenda.  And by waiting to publish the framework until the Localism Bill has passed through the scrutiny of the Lords should ensure that Ministers get their localism bill and NPPF in place for the target start date of April 2012.  With the incentive provisions of the New Homes Bonus already established, the Government will feel that the core foundations of its planning reform agenda will have been delivered in less than two years of taking office – a pretty significant achievement.

Yet, there are a number of words of caution.

1. This is still a draft NPPF.  The final version needs ratification and ministers will face months of lobbying from interest groups wanting to water it down.

2. Even if the NPPF is implemented as drafted, much will depend on how the Secretary of State administers the new system and interprets the provisions within the new framework.  The term “sustainable development” in itself could be interpreted in many ways.

3. Much of the enthusiasm for the new policy is the presumption in favour of sustainable development.  Yet if this becomes seen as a loophole for developers to exploit the system, the Secretary of State will come under enormous pressure to use it sparingly.

Westminster now packs away for the summer break.  CLG Ministers need to re-charge their batteries.  When they come back, they will face pressure from councils, lobby groups, backbench MPs and the media to tone down the draft of this NPPF.

Wyn Evans is Founding Director of Forty Shillings.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Business rates, a brave decision minister

The announcement by the Coalition Government to re-localise business rates – well at least to allow councils to retain the business rates from new commercial development – will be welcomed by the local government fraternity. 

It should also be welcomed by the development world.  There will now be a financial incentive for councils to approve commercial development, in the same way as the New Homes Bonus incentivises new house building.  And by preventing councils from increasing the business levy, there is a reassurance that there will be no return to the 1980s when socialist town halls piled up the tax burden onto the business owner.

But it is a bold and brave decision by the Coalition, particularly the Liberal Democrats.  The major beneficiaries will be those areas that attract new businesses, predominantly the more affluent south. 

The London Borough of Westminster collects 6% of the country’s entire business rates.  Every time a new Gherkin or Shard goes up, they will be cashing in.

A new political narrative is emerging that we have a Tory government, propped up by the Liberal Democrats, which is favouring the south over the north.  The Liberal Democrats paid a massive price for this at the recent local elections, suffering huge losses in the northern cities. 

Despite Nick Clegg’s assertion that the localisation of the business rates will be fair, it is difficult to see how any system can be implemented which won’t favour those areas which are already attractive for business to locate. 

What are your thoughts?  Do you think re-localisation will give councils more incentive to support commercial development?  Which areas will be the main beneficiaries?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Will there be a public backlash against the New Homes Bonus?

Wyn Evans

Britain desperately needs to build more homes.  A recent YouGov poll found that 81% of Britons accepted this.  The problem is that they don’t want them built in their own neighbourhoods.

Tackling this dilemma is the single biggest challenge facing the development industry.  The last Government’s attempt to impose top-down housing targets only brought resentment and public anger.

The Coalition Government is pinning its hopes on the New Home Bonus.  It believes that by giving local councils’ financial incentives to support development, communities will come round to the idea.  Asked what Plan B is if it fails, one minister replied that they will simply increase the Bonus.

I’m a big supporter of the New Homes Bonus.  I have seen at first hand schemes approved that would have definitely been thrown out under the old regime.  But I have also seen its drawbacks.

About six months ago, I was brought in by a developer just two weeks before committee.  The scheme was recommended for approval by officers but had generated over 1,800 objections.  Ordinarily, the application would have had no chance.  However, the site was located in an opposition held ward and the New Homes Bonus brought the council the promise of a £7.5m windfall.  Despite there being 400 objectors packed into the public gallery, the councillors from the ruling group voted it through.

I was so impressed at the power of incentives, that it became a central feature of the next consultation I ran.  We asked the public how they would want the New Homes Bonus spent?  But far from winning people over, it triggered the accusation that we were trying to buy and bribe our planning permission.

This could become the New Homes Bonus’ Achilles heel.  In using the incentives’ package to justify development, councils will antagonise local resident groups.  Far from winning over community support, it will provoke further cynicism about the planning process.

In three years’ time, it might be Labour that is hoovering up the NIMBY vote by promising to abolish the hated New Homes Bribe.

What do you think?  Will the New Homes Bonus help build more homes?  Will it help win over local communities to the need for more housebuilding? Or will it be seen by the public as an unacceptable bribe?

Wyn Evans is the Founding Director of Forty Shillings.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Guest Blog: the end of the Thatcherite consensus?

Jayant Chavda

Just like buses, major political events often come in threes. This week has seen the near-collapse of Southern Cross, the care home provider, a survey by Halifax which revealed that 64 per cent of 20-45 year olds questioned do not believe that they will get on to the property ladder in the next five years, and growing concern by leading economists that the Government’s deficit reduction strategy is damaging the economy. These three events are significant because they undermine the Thatcherite political consensus which has prevailed in Britain since 1979: the private sector can be trusted to run public services; home ownership is within everyone’s reach; and cutting public spending is the best way to help an economy grow.

Southern Cross – Britain’s largest provider of care for elderly people with 30,000 residents in 750 homes – is in serious financial trouble (current half-year losses are £311m) because its rent payments have increased by 2.5 per cent whilst local authorities have cut spending on social care by 10 per cent thus reducing their income sharply. The company was owned up to 2006 by the private equity firm, Blackstone, which pursued a strategy of buying care homes then selling them and relying on fees to cover the rents.

This business model – like the other one favoured by private equity during the credit boom, taking on huge debt – now looks bust, and provides yet another cautionary tale about the risks involved in bringing in profit-making companies to run essential public services. Yet the Government is ploughing on with allowing “any qualified provider” to run health services, as part of its disastrous NHS reforms. There is very patchy evidence regarding the private sector’s ability to improve the quality of services yet right-wing think tanks like Reform, and former New Labour ministers and advisers, such as Lord Warner and Julian Le Grand, insist on greater competition in health care.

The Halifax survey of 8000 20-45 year olds was a depressing reminder that the UK housing market has huge barriers for first-time buyers with property prices still far too high, lending criteria far too strict, and young people far too unlikely to have the requisite savings to put down a deposit. The average age for a person to get on to the property ladder without parental support is now 37.

One of New Labour’s great failures was to reverse the trend of the Thatcher era and build enough homes (especially of the affordable kind) to meet the needs of the population, which would have helped to put downward pressure on house prices. It is something that the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, needs to address seriously if he is to deliver on his concept of the “British promise,” that the next generation does better than the last.

It has taken an awfully long time, but some of the country’s leading economists have finally realised that the Government’s savage public spending cuts will severely hamper Britain’s already faltering growth prospects. In The Observer today, a number set out their worries as consumer spending falls, business investment declines, and exports stagnate – whilst unemployment and inflation are high, and government borrowing is up by £46bn.

Tim Besley, a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, who organised a letter to the Sunday Times last year supporting the Coalition’s deficit reduction programme, said, “Everybody has been disappointed with growth……I would like to see from the Government …a much more clearly defined growth strategy.”

Professor John Muellbauer of Oxford University, who signed the letter to the Sunday Times, said, "Things are going badly. I had hoped that the focus in the Budget would be on improving growth in the places where there are growth prospects, and also maintaining infrastructure investment, and that they would tackle failures of planning."

It was perfectly obvious to those of us with less economic credentials than Mr Besley and Professor Muellbauer that George Osborne’s massive gamble of reactionary cuts and tax increases when the economy was clearly still fragile was doomed to failure. Nearly all independent economic bodies, including the Office for Budget Responsibility and the OECD, have revised their growth forecasts for the UK downwards, a damning indictment on Mr Osborne, who has consistently lied to the public about the causes of the budget deficit and the rationale for his unnecessarily deep cuts.

Margaret Thatcher famously proclaimed that there was no alternative, and the Labour Party pretty much concurred with her during the Blair-Brown era. In light of this week’s troubling developments, there has never been a better time for Ed Miliband to start articulating clearly and passionately how he would do things differently if he reached No 10.

Jayant Chavda is a freelance political consultant and a former Labour Party researcher.