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Access to affordable comprehensive child care and schooling is widely regarded as being crucial to improving the incentives for mothers to actively search for and take paid work. Effective early years education also has a long run positive effect on employment prospects and is important as part of the overall supply-side capacity of the economy.read more...»
In its annual assessment of the U.K. economy, the IMF called on the UK to invest in skills and infrastructure and increase banking sector competition in order to foster growth and achieve a sustainable recovery.
The report can be found here and contains plenty of relevant background information on the current situation facing the UK - here is a selection of quotes from their summary
The UK Coalition government has introduced a controversial welfare cap - imposing a maximum on the total social security spending per year for each family. The welfare cap limits households to £26,000 a year. Couples and single parents receive no more than £500 a week in benefits, while the limit for single people is £350, although there are some exemptions.
The cap is designed to ensure that benefits payments do not exceed the income of the average working household and is designed both to cut total welfare spending and as part of a strategy of improving incentives for people to actively look for and take paid work.
Critics argue that a welfare gap does little or nothing to address deeper underlying problems such as the soaring cost of renting property and the lack of affordable child care.
Social spending varies greatly across different countries. The Economist live chart below looks at some of these differences.read more...»
This short video from the OECD looks at the importance of knowledge capital as a key driver of innovation and growth for businesses and economies across the world. Innovation -- building on human knowledge - is booming, changing the way business invests and grows. As coal drove the last industrial revolution, software, databases, research and development, designs, new business models and the skills people bring to an organisation are driving revolutionary changes today.read more...»
For students' exam answers to be lifted from the ordinary to the higher levels, they really need to add some convincing evidence for their statements of theory. Here is a nice, simple report from the BBC of the latest figures from the ONS which shows what happened to household incomes in 2011-12, which would really fit the bill nicely.
Average household income has fallen by £1,200 since 2007-8 in real terms;
Before tax and benefits, the average income of the top fifth of households was £78,000 and of the bottom fifth was £5,400 - a ratio between them of about 14:1
After tax and benefits these had changed to £57,300 and £15,800 - a ratio of four to one
Between 2007-8 and 2011-12, the average income of the top fifth has fallen by 6.8% and the bottom fifth has risen by 6.9%, so the gap between the two has narrowed (- note that the latest changes in benefits are not included as they took place after the end of the 2011-12 year).
All groups paid more in indirect tax in 2011-12 than in the previous two years, due to rises in VAT in 2010 and 2011.
We link here to a recent lecture given by Professor Doug McWilliams at Gresham College that might be of particular interest to students and teachers who are taking the transport economics option.
London has some major disadvantages that would make any transport policy difficult. However, even given the constraints, the current policy mix is so far away from ideal that it could be costing each household about £1,000 more than it should if transport were to be organised rationally. The lecture outlines some proposals for transport reform in the capital.
We link here to a recent 45 minute illustrated lecture given by Professor James Sproule on the impact of demographic change on competitiveness and growth prospects for the UK and other economies.
Economic growth depends on productivity gains and changes to the workforce. With service sector productivity gains diminishing and baby boomers across Europe approaching retirement, businesses face crucial questions on how they will fare. What can be done to maintain levels of prosperity in the UK?
The scale of the new London Gateway Super deepwater Port is truly stunning and its importance to the economy as a trading nation is hard to underestimate - Britain will have a new world class hub port in a key location impacting on many trades and services in and around the South East and beyond. It has taken 10 years to establish and build this huge new infrastructure project, building eventually started in 2008.
Behind the port sits Europe's largest logistics park connected to the South east by road and rail.
This Financial Times news video looks at the background to the project - it is a good example to consider of the macroeconomic consequences of the investment. What price a new Thames Estuary airport (supported by Boris Johnson) to amplify the transformative impact in the years ahead?
Update: BBC news (November 2013) - click hereread more...»
Students looking for a good example of a supply-side policy for improving the economic performance of the UK may be interested in this news article about how increasing the labour participation rates of women in the UK could lead to an increase in GDP by up to a staggering 10%. This growth could be achieved by encouraging the number of women wishing to provide their labour (or increase the provision of their labour) to the same level as men.
The common view now is that legislation is no longer good enough in itself to provide this encouragement. The Equality Act of 2010 combined the various equal opportunity laws together to penalise businesses that operate unequally. What appears to be needed is an improvement in the accessibility, availability, cost and quality of childcare facilities to allow more mothers to work (or work longer).
A further article (follow this link) explores how this principle is equally true of the Japanese economy. This article has a fantastic graph comparing the female participation rates for many of the major economies which might be a fantastic data example for teachers to use as a compare and contrast exercise.
As for the costs on society of such a policy....... That's a different question!
Much of the recent talk about tax has been linked to the avoidance stories by big multi-national companies like Google. An alternative angle that students may find interesting as a counter argument is the use of tax concessions as an incentive by government. The most commonly used example is the concessions given to more environmentally-friendly cars when their owners pay road tax.
Another interesting example has been highlighted this week, in concessions given out to those people who give away items classified as culturally significant. Follow this link to read an article on how some handwritten lyrics penned by John Lennon have been given away by their owner as part of the Cultural Gifts tax relief scheme.
Will all the tax avoiders in the front row please jangle their jewellery?
employer's point of view, a zero hours contract is a great example of the
benefits of the flexible labour market. They allow the employer to change the
number of hours an employee works each week, with more shifts offered when they
are busy, and fewer when they are not; costs can therefore be controlled and
matched more exactly to revenue. Neil Carberry at the CBI says that they have
helped to save jobs during the recession and stagnant growth: "It's zero
hours contracts and other forms of flexible working that mean there are half a
million fewer unemployed people than there might otherwise have been." Now
figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS)
show the number of 16 to 24-year-olds on zero hours contracts has more than
doubled since the start of the economic downturn, rising from 35,000 in 2008 to
76,000 in 2012. This means that one in every three people on a zero-hours
contract is under 25 (- although that proportion doesn't look as if it has
changed very dramatically throughout the period shown). If this is good for the employer, how is it for the
Apparently this is how George Osborne ended his tweet last night, announcing that the next Star Wars film is to be made in the UK - how nice to have some good news for a change! It looks like a great example of supply-side fiscal policy being effective. As long as at least 25% of the total production expenditure takes place in the UK, the film will benefit from tax relief, up to a maximum of 80% of the total budget for production costs in the UK. This seems to be acting as a powerful incentive: hundreds of films have been made here in the last few years and benefited not only from the tax relief but also from the comparative advantage which the UK is establishing in the creative industries with major film studios such as Pinewood, Leavesden and Ealing. How much is this worth to the UK economy?
This two-minute video from The Economist analyses the growing problem of youth unemployment in selected developed economies since the start of the financial crisis in 2007, including Greece, Spain, the UK, France, US and Germany. The chilling statistic from The Economist is that almost a quarter of the world's young people eligible for employment are without a job.
Youth unemployment in the UK
In the period from June to August 2013, 958,000 young people in the UK aged 16-24 were unemployed. The unemployment rate for those aged 16-24 was 21.0%read more...»
Here is a streamed (and downloadable) presentation on policies to cut unemployment in the UK economy.read more...»
I'm always sightly dubious about statistics and information represented by campaign organisations - I'm left with the reservation that information can presented in any way that you want to prove whatever point that you are trying to make (wasn't it an economist who came up with the phrase 'lies, damned lies and statistics'?). So this fascinating report from an organisation called 'Vision of Humanity' needs to be looked at with an open mind.
However, if you take it at face value, it offers some really interesting information.read more...»
Fantastic interactive website here lets you check out migration flows both inward and outward from any country you care to look at.
Introducing The Government Game - tutor2u's new Economic Simulation game that is just perfect for revising for AS & A2 Macroeconomic Policy topics!
The annual NORFACE migration conference at University College London this week has generated plenty of new research papers on the economics of international migration, a topic that of growing significance for students of globalisation, competitiveness, innovation and growth. Some of the key findings are summarised below together with external links to relevant articles and news reportsread more...»
Unicef have just released their latest 'report card' on the relative state of well being among children in 29 of the most wealthy countries. The report (a full version and a summary) are available from this link.
The report shows pleasing progress for the UK (our place on the overall ranking has gone up from last place to 16th) with an improvement in obesity levels and a reduction in consumption of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs compared to the 2007 report.
However, worryingly, the UK is ranked 24th in the table with regards to its provision of Education. The biggest weakness highlighted, is the fact that the UK has one of the lowest percentages of young people continuing with education post 16 (only 74%) and very high levels of young people not in education, employment or training at all (nearly 10%). Students of economics could use this as evidence of government failure with regards to supply-side policies - with such a low level of participation in comparison to our major competitors can we guarantee that we are developing skills that will allow the economy to grow in the future? Could your students suggest (and then evaluate) suggestions for how this situation could be remedied?
A recent World Bank report asked ‘Where is the Wealth of Nations?’ Calculations presented at the Economic History Society’s 2013 annual conference show that for Britain, the answer is undoubtedly in its people.
Dr Jan Kunnas and his colleagues calculate that Britain’s ‘human capital’ has grown by a multiple of 123 over the past 250 years. The main drivers of this phenomenal growth have been the growth in the workforce and the growth in wages.
The researchers define human capital as the knowledge and skills embodied in individuals – and they measure it by the discounted earnings the population is expected to earn during their time in the labour force.We have an extended revision note on human capital and economic growth - read it here
The Changing Wealth of Nations - World Bank reports can be accessed here
How Britain escaped from the travails of the Great Depression and achieved 4% a year growth in the years from 1933 to 1937 has important lessons for today’s policy-makers, according to research by Professor Nicholas Crafts, presented at the Economic History Society’s 2013 annual conference.read more...»
GDP per hour – labour productivity – in the UK remains lower than at the beginning of the recession in 2008. A special session at the Royal Economic Society on Friday 5 April held jointly by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) and Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) investigated the causes of this mystery. It was also the subject of BBC Rradio 4 In Business - click here
See also: the Job Rich Depression (The Economist)read more...»
Germany’s low unemployment is in large part due to the ‘Hartz Reforms’, which started as early as 2003 and have reduced the long-run rate of unemployment by 1.1%. That is the central finding of research by Matthias Hertweck and Oliver Sigrist, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference.
Unemployment rates across much of Europe have surged to unprecedented levels in recent years, particularly among the southern countries. In contrast, German unemployment has continued to fall even during the Great Recession. The authors conclude:
‘Our results build a solid basis for the macroeconomic effectiveness of such labour market reforms. This is particularly important for policy-makers across Europe who are currently planning to undertake similar structural reforms.’
The success of small firms is crucial to hopes of a sustained recovery in the UK economy and the government is keen to promote innovation within small and medium sized enterprises with a range of tax incentives including the Patent Box. The Patent Box system allows companies to apply an effective 10 percent preferential rate of corporation tax to profits attributable to patents and is introduced from April 2013.
Will this fresh supply-side fiscal policy prompt a significant boost to patent applications from UK firms? The evidence so far is mixed. The number of patent applications to the UK Intellectual Property Office from within the UK was just 15,370 in 2012, almost equal to the 2011 figure of 15,343. (Source: Independent, March 2013). But there has been a large rise in the number of patent applications made in the UK by foreign businesses especially in the pharmaceutical sector.
The reality is that most small businesses are too busy reinvesting their revenues back into growing their businesses rather than going through the lengthy, uncertain and often costly process of making multiple patent bids on their new product and process ideas. In a recent blog from the Wall Street Journal it was claimed that "it is almost impossible to defend software or business process innovation patents in the UK." Others are more optimistic - read this short piece from the Scotsman which claims that the Patent Box fits well with the ambition of the Scottish government to attract inward investment from high-knowledge businesses.read more...»
Here's a 5 to 10 minute activity for your post-Easter classes on macro-economic objectives - The Angry Economist! The design is very loosely based upon the 'Angry Bird' game.
You will need up to 8 volunteers to answer the 'Angry Economist's' questions.
Each student can choose a Government policy named on-screen and then the Angry Economist randomly chooses a macro-economic objective. The student has to to apply their knowledge and understanding of their chosen policy to the macro-economic objective shown.
The screen encourages the student to analyse and evaluate their own answer.
Use this link to access the resource. Give it a go!read more...»
This 10-question revision quiz focuses on supply-side policies.
I know that it is April Fools Day, but the new and quite radical social welfare reforms are starting to come in to play from this week and they are genuine!
Use this link to access a document that summarises the main changes to the welfare reforms. You can use this document as a lesson activity to discuss government policies to achieve macro-economic objectives.
Are these reforms just aimed at reducing the government's debt or are they aimed at improving the unemployment situation? Are they part of a wider supply-side set of policies aimed at making the UK workforce more effective and flexible?
Could students discuss each policy's strength and weakness? Could they suggest alternative and (possibly) more effective policies.
Useful graphic from The Guardian showing Government Revenues and Spending - helps to put some perspective on some of the announcements.
Politicshome's live Blog showing that hell hath no fury like pressure groups scorned, with plenty of useful links to early comments on The Budget.
Evening Standard's coverage here, it managed to pre-empt the Chancellor's statement.
With Evening Standard-like speed, please follow this link for a short set of questions about today's Budget.
Attention is often focused on the tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade and in particular, the extent to which trade from developing countries to advanced high-income nations is influenced by import taxes. Average tariff rates have come down to historic lows in recent years although non-tariff barriers proliferate.
New research from a group of European economists finds that trade costs - a concept that captures the broader expenses of getting goods and services across borders into international markets - are much higher than tariffs. And for developing countries these costs have not fallen to the same extent as richer countries.read more...»
The economics news, and this blog, has recently featured the debate between those who favour more government spending on public infrastructure and those who favour sticking to the role of austerity, in the search for growth - see the debate (or spat) between Krugman and Sachs, Vince Cable's article in the New Statesman and Liam Fox's speech to the IEA last week for a range of different views. The idea that more UK spending on 'shovel-ready projects' (if such a thing exists) would help to kick start the economy through multiplied growth of GDP suggests that we don't spend enough. And this view would be borne out by those who suffer damaged car tyres from potholes, hold-ups on the roads and railways from lack of maintenance, and delayed or re-routed air travel when the airports can't cope with adverse weather. However, an article in the Wall Street Journal this weekend suggests that the UK's spending is well ahead of other countries,and that Germany in particular has a real problem with aging, collapsing infrastructure.
It’s not often you read such a clearly set out, even-handed article on macroeconomic policy, so this relatively lengthy piece was interesting in itself as its writer appears to deal relatively equally with both sides of the big austerity debate. But you really have to take notice when the writer is the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable.
Tomorrow's Financial Times leads with a headline, "Osborne to hand Carney powers to kick start the economy." Budget to alter Bank of England's remit...Loser Monetary Policy."
Stephannie Flanders, the BBC's Economics Editor, considered if the UK's present monetary policy with its use of Quantitative Easing had played a part in pushing up share prices and wondered if other unorthodox measures would be effective to deal with a stagnating economy.
Vince Cable the Business Secretary provides an outline in The New Statesman of the economic problems the current coalition government has faced, how monetary, fiscal and supply side measures might be used to stimulate the UK economy in response to what he calls the long economic stagnation of post-crisis Britain.
The FT implies that The Chancellor is not wholly convinced by arguments from Vince Cable to boost growth with a new programme of infrastructure spending on schools, roads and housing, funded by extra borrowing. The arrival of Mark Carney at The Bank of England may signal a sea change in how monetary policy is used to stimulate the economy, breaking with the 2% inflation targeting approach. The MPC may be encouraged to focus on targets for inflation and employment. Some of The Committee's members support more quantitative easing whilst The Deputy Governor Paul Tucker said the idea of negative interest rates should be considered.
Link to coverage of Cameron's Speech http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/mar/07/david-cameron-rules-out-extra-borrowing
The Economist wades in with an analysis of why the slump in consumer spending has contributed to a flatlining economy with low or barely perceptible growth. Household saving has increased to c.7%. Falls in real wages, coupled with rising 'administered prices' of gas and electricity have also helped lower consumption. But the cycle of higher costs and prices isn't helped when Sterling depreciated by 6% in the course of the New Year.
On Thursday 31st of January 2013, the long-awaited LSE Growth Commission Report was published and launched in London. The document itself is available for download from this link and I urge all teachers and students interested in growth, competitiveness and the fairness agenda to have a look at it. It is full of rewarding and important insights into the drivers of balanced growth in a modern advanced economy.
I will be adding new resources and links to this blog following the launch event
Key Points from LSE Growth Report
- Strong rule of law
- Generally competitive product markets
- Flexible labour market
- A world-class university system
- Openness to foreign investors and migrants
- Independent regulators including competition authorities
- Strengths in many key sectors including high end manufacturing
LSE Commission Growth Agenda
- Greater autonomy for schools, tackle the long tail of under-performance. Conditional cash transfers for families to pupil attendance and performance. Focus league tables less on % attaining 5 A-C grades. Reveal performance at the bottom end.
- Concentrating on skills (improving human capital) gives people the resilience to recover from global shifts in the division of labour
- Critical infrastructure essential for competitiveness in modern economy. For the UK, transport and energy are infrastructure areas with biggest issues; there has been a lack of clear strategy and lots of dithering / political delays.
- Huge opportunities for UK - industrial revolution driven by search for low-carbon technologies driving innovation - can the UK keep up?
LSE Commission proposes:
- 1) Strategy Board (for planning)
- 2) Planning Commission (for delivery)
- 3) Infrastructure Bank (for funding)
- Innovation is the third channel for increased growth
- Problems in UK capital markets mean innovation is not properly funded - short-termism remains a structural weakness of the markets
- More competition in retail banking
- Business bank that prioritises lending to SMEs and innovative firms
Changing the compass of economic performance
- Commission suggests that focus on GDP is not helpful
- GDP misses out on who gets the growth and measures production not income
- Need more focus on Median Household Income
- Median household income and GDP per capita have been decoupled since about 2002. GDP no longer tracks it
UK trend growth rate can be lifted by 0.5% with effective structural reforms - large compound effect on incomes over the long run
Institutions and incentives matter for growth. Macro stability important too. UK politics too short term and adversarial. Fundamental weakness is the failure to create a stable policy framework.
More focus needed on evidence based policy making to make government smarter.
Here Professor John Van Reenen, Director of CEP and co-chair of the LSE Growth Commission, presents a 'manifesto for growth' for the UK economy over the next 50 years, backed up by the Growth Commission's report.read more...»
There are several research organisations out there producing regularly updated forecasts on what is likely to happen to the relative shares of global GDP and income per capita over the long run. Typically the forecast stretches out to 2050 and necessarily involves plenty of uncertainty. But these over the horizon studies are quite interesting in their own right because they remind us of the changing drivers of growth in the world economy.
Here is one of these reports - World in 2050 The BRICs and beyond: prospects, challenges and opportunities - produced by economists at PriceWaterhouseCoopersread more...»
Robert Nutter explains that, over recent years, the fear that the minimum wage would cause increased unemployment has not materialised, although since the start of the current economic crisis employers have expressed some concerns that employment may be affected in low paid jobs. Another concern has been the belief that a national minimum wage is inappropriate for an economy where costs and labour market conditions vary significantly between regions. The national minimum wage may perhaps provide a living wage in North-East England but certainly not in London.read more...»
An updated glossary of key terms for AS macroread more...»
As the sun rises on another year will the headwinds be favourable for Britain or are we facing up to another year of stresses and strains? Here is a brief commentary and overview of some of the key macroeconomic data for the UK economy together with some links to external articles and videos on economic prospects for Britain as we head in 2013.read more...»
Immigration lowers the wages of relatively low-skilled native employees in sectors of the service economy that hire bigger shares of foreign workers. But the cost reductions that employers enjoy from lower wages are typically passed on to consumers: price inflation is much higher for services with no change in immigrant employment than for services where immigrant employment is growing.
These are among the findings of research by Professors Bernt Bratsberg and Oddbjørn Raaum, published in the latest issue of the Economic Journal. Their study confirms that there are clear winners and losers from labour migration: low- and semi-skilled workers face increased competitive pressures on their wages and employment while consumers enjoy more services at lower prices.
Any visa policies that restrict entry by highly productive foreign students are a significant barrier to science and ultimately to innovation and growth. That is one of the conclusions of research by Professors Eric Stuen, Mushfiq Mobarak and Keith Maskus, published in the latest issue of the Economic Journal.
Their study of 700,000 postgraduates in the science and engineering laboratories of the top US universities finds that American students and foreign students are both highly significant contributors to the development of scientific knowledge. But greater diversity in the origins of foreign students raises their joint contribution to knowledge.
These findings imply that visa restrictions limiting the entry of high- ability foreign students – as well as visa policies that prioritise students’ ability to pay tuition fees over their technical merits – would significantly undermine scientific output.
Here is a link to a video of a talk given by the eminent economic historian, Professor Nick Crafts on whether there are important lessons from the 1930s for policy-makers as they search for growth enhancing policy measures. The opening statement is gloomy, but the historical sweep and arguments are impressive! A stretch and challenge talk for ambitious sixth form economists.read more...»
At our Teaching the Global Economy at the RSA (London) in November 2012, the distinguished development economist Professor Paul Collier spoke on some of the leading development issues of the moment. A-level student Mark Austen was there to scribe some notes on the talk and the subsequent Q&A discussion. Here are his notes together with some connecting links and other resources. We hope that you find them useful.read more...»
Youth unemployment is higher than adult unemployment even in normal economic times. But in recessions, especially in countries with rigid labour markets, young people typically stay unemployed for too long. In these circumstances, urgent policy action is needed to avoid long-term unemployment, which destroys talent and creates social problems.
Peter Marsh's talk at our Global economy conference in London on Monday challenged us to think in fresh terms about what manufacturing is and the opportunities for British businesses to make successful headway in premium and precision manufactured products in a fast-changing global environment. Here are the slides from his presentation. The FT special reprot - Making the Future is well worth tapping into - here is the link. We have also linked to some of his recent video pieces for the Financial Timesread more...»
I'm sure you don't have any problems convincing your students that education is a merit good/service. Every so often, however, it may be difficult for young people in the UK, aspirational and aiming high, to see how their own learning impacts so positively upon the wider society. Although we constantly debate the quality of education in the UK and strive to improve, many young people will take opportunities to access schools and colleges for granted - perhaps arguing about local differences and the cost of higher education but rarely about actual access to basic education. With such relatively high levels of literacy and numeracy amongst British youngsters it is difficult for them to imagine a society where this is not the norm. The Waseela-e-Taleem initiative in Pakistan, however, could prove a useful example of how government intervention into education is about more than just the structure of assessment and paying teachers - but a country's drive to improve access to basic education and shift its economic as well its political and sociological prospects.read more...»
Michael Heseltine’s report on economic growth came out last week. It contains 89 recommendations. A mere 57 varieties, to recall the famous Heinz slogan, might have connected it more with popular culture.
Here is a selection of visualisations from the MIT Media Lab Observatory of Economic Complexity - these cover changes in export patterns for a small cluster of developing and developed countries. What are the most notable and perhaps significant changes that students can identify?read more...»
If fiscal consolidation continues and radical changes to monetary policy are ruled out, it is mainly ‘supply-side’ reform that can restart UK growth without doing longer-term damage to the economy. Among other things, that means repairing infrastructure, improving education, reforming taxation and tackling the restrictive planning system. But one area that could deliver both short-term stimulus and long-term efficiency is private house-building – as happened in the 1930s recovery from recession. Today’s planning restrictions mean that the stock of houses is three million below and real prices are 35% above what they would be if market forces operated freely.
These are among the conclusions of Professor Nick Crafts on what policy-makers can learn from the 1930s and 1980s, when the UK economy made strong recoveries from severe recessions very similar to the current one. Despite fiscal consolidation, both the 1930-32 and 1979-81 recessions were followed by strong recoveries.
Delivering the Royal Economic Society (RES) annual policy lecture in London on Wednesday 17 October 2012, Professor Crafts summarised the policy lessons from those decades that are relevant to kick-starting recovery now:
Former Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was once (perhaps) quoted as saying: "The Green Belt is one of Labour's greatest achievements, and we intend to build on it!". Danny Boyle's dramatic and wonderful London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony "Isle's of Beauty" began with an unforgettable rural landscape which was soon to be transformed by an altogether harsher industrial landscape during the pandemonium.
For many years we have regarded our greenbelt protected land as a bulwark against urban sprawl and over-rapid commercial and industrial development. But this is about to change with a change in planning laws and regulations that will make it easier to turn farmland into business parks and new housing?read more...»
New figures that make international comparisons of productivity suggest that the UK is once more fallig behind efficiency improvements made in some of our major trade rivals. The productivity gap is regarded by many as one of the key supply-side weaknesses in the British economy.