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No more boom and bust may be an expression that will haunt Gordon Brown to his grave. If there’s a silver lining to this cloud, though, it’s that we should have a better idea of what to do in this particular bust.

The recessions of the 1980s and early 1990s were prolonged in part because nobody acknowledged their severity until it stared them in the face.

The lasting memories of the 1980s are derelict factories, dole queues and Boys from the Blackstuff.

The early 1990s saw the Thatcherite dream of home ownership turn sour for tens of thousands.

The current downturn is already starting to reverberate across the economy. First financial services, then housing and commercial property, and now manufacturing and retail.

The knowledge economy, industry and the service sectors are all on their uppers.

If you examine the regeneration policies of a decade ago, you’ll find they were still dealing with the fallout of previous recessions.

The large-scale abandonment of swathes of housing in northern cities, documented by the likes of Anne Power, had its roots in the economic shocks of the previous 20 years.

Similarly, the financial earthquakes we’re feeling now are likely to have economic and social aftershocks for many years. Their scale depends on what we do now.

From that viewpoint, the pre-budget report is a risk worth running. It may suffer from trying to be all things to all people, but in comparison with the head-in-the-sand policies of previous regimes it shows an unprecedented perspicacity.

Compare and contrast with former premier John Major’s line – ‘if it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working’.

Alistair Darling’s willingness to press ahead with new economic development powers for local government is particularly welcome.

If housing and labour markets work at a city-regional level, policymaking needs to do so too. Joint boards between city-regions and the Homes and Communities Agency make sense, as long as they are all about getting things done rather than devising protocols.

The same goes for the proposed national employment partnership.

The government has signalled it wants to forestall the worst of the recession by investing in social housing, energy efficiency and infrastructure.

What’s needed now is a culture of social entrepreneurship in central and local government – officials who will invest time, energy and money, at risk, for the benefit of all. Members of the public accounts committee, please take note.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine


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