Comment: Statisticians will love productivity plan

THE government’s productivity plan unveiled yesterday is a jumble of statistics, current and extrapolated, designed to spotlight that we Brits don’t work hard enough or efficiently enough. Enough with the praise, already. More seriously, the plan to cut the red tape that is clogging up residential development, which is seen as contributing to our broader productivity malaise, is a good start.

Martin Flanagan. Picture: Fiona Hanson

Developers, at least those south of the Border, will automatically get the green light to build on suitable disused industrial land under the reforms Chancellor George Osborne has unveiled in the slipstream of his Budget this week.

This is far less contentious than concreting over the nation’s green and pleasant land, although there will have to be safeguards that opponents of new developments are not ridden roughshod over in a bid to boost productivity at all costs.

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The UK government will also step in with centrally drawn up plans to meet local housing demands if councils slack on the job, while major infrastructure projects with a strong housing component will be fast-tracked.

If one was being picky, one might question whether easier housebuilding is the first port of call you would go to when you are thinking how to improve productivity.

Will extra compulsory purchase powers to acquire brownfield sites envisaged in the productivity plan really make a UK worker able to produce in four days, like in Germany, what he or she currently produces in five?

Arguably as, or even more, important to the Brits raising their productivity game, is improving our transport infrastructure and our training of young workers.

One of the problems with working out the productivity conundrum, when our economic growth is much better than many of our competitors, is the abstraction and complexity of much of the debate.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said yesterday that while the government was determined to take action on planning, transport and education, our road congestion was so bad that, by 2040, more than 100 million working days could be swallowed by traffic jams. How on earth would you even start trying to work that out?

Meanwhile, there is always the provocative question left hanging in the air of how much Britain’s trade unions are an obstacle to productivity progress?

But, even with the virtual lockdown of London this week due to strike action on London Underground, that argument carries far less weight than it did in more antediluvian trade union times. The world has moved on.

The unions just don’t have the heft they once did, in either the private or public sectors. The productivity problem cannot be all left at their doors.

Finally, lift-off for IAG/Aer Lingus deal

IT IS welcome that Ryanair has paved the way for International Airlines Group to take over Aer Lingus. The future of Aer Lingus had become a labyrinthine saga, also involving Ryanair’s seemingly interminable dispute with the UK regulators about its near-30 per cent stake in the Irish flag-carrier.

Yesterday’s accommodation gets the regulators off Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s rhinocerous-skinned back, while allowing his airline to exit with a little profit from its extended relationship with Aer Lingus, and also smoothing the way for what looks a necessary piece of airline industry consolidation.

The Irish government will be pleased.