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Now it’s official: Brexit will damage the economy long into the future Jonathan Portes

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“Now it’s official: Brexit will damage the economy long into the future” Jonathan Portes

We’re used to hearing apocalyptic descriptions of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK economy: “the largest fall in economic output since 1709”, was the Office for National Statistics’ verdict eight months ago.

Yet the Office for Budget Responsibility, in its report on Wednesday’s budget, estimates that the long-term impact of Brexit will be more than twice as great as Covid. It thinks that Brexit will reduce UK productivity, and hence GDP per capita, by 4%, while the impact of Covid on GDP will only be 2%, with a slightly smaller impact on GDP per capita.

This shouldn’t be surprising. The fall in output in 2020 was both inevitable and desirable – it was not, in economic terms, that different from an extended holiday. Just like a holiday, we chose to shut down large parts of the economy. The difference was that it was by necessity – to save lives – rather than by choice, but the consequences aren’t that different. The economy shrank, and by a lot.

Holidays don’t reduce the productive capacity of the economy. If a factory shuts down for a month, the machines are still there when it reopens. Similarly, when workers return, they still know how to do their jobs. The virus does not destroy factories, roads, buildings or software and, while its human toll has been dreadful, the impact on the size or composition of the working-age population will be relatively small in macroeconomic terms.

So the worry was not the huge short-term fall in GDP. It was that temporary closures would do permanent damage to the economy. The biggest risk was that, as in the 1980s, we allowed mass unemployment to become entrenched, or viable businesses to go bust.

But, thanks to the furlough scheme and other business support measures, we seem to have avoided that risk in the UK and elsewhere. Indeed, US GDP – boosted by Joe Biden’s stimulus package – has already exceeded its pre-crisis level. The UK is not that far behind, albeit still well below the pre-crisis trend.

Indeed, the most obvious short-term economic problem in most advanced economies are now supply bottlenecks and labour market mismatches as economies reopen, leading to rising wages and shortages of some goods. But while this will – as the OBR also says – reduce both growth and, via inflation, real wages, it will mostly be temporary.

The OBR isn’t entirely sanguine – it still thinks Covid will permanently push some people out of the labour force, through early retirement or potentially long Covid, and that there will be some lasting hit to productivity. But things could have been a lot worse.

By contrast, Brexit is, by its nature, a long-term issue. Just as it took decades for the UK to see the full benefits of EU membership, we’ll still be discussing the economic impacts of Brexit long after I’ve retired.

The direction of those impacts isn’t controversial. The principle that increasing barriers to trade and labour mobility between two large trading partners will reduce trade and migration, and that this will, in general, reduce economic welfare on both sides – but especially for the smaller partner – isn’t really at issue.

While there was no shortage of politicians who argued that, somehow, new trade barriers would not make much difference, or that trade with our closest and largest single trading partner could easily be substituted with trade with the rest of the world, no credible economic analysis endorsed such claims.

Nor is the OBR’s 4% estimate of the impact on the UK economy that different from that of independent economists – we at UK in a Changing Europe put it at just under 6%.

But crucially, both those (and other) estimates predated Brexit. So the news here is that the OBR has taken a hard look at the evidence to date on the actual impact of Brexit. Its conclusion, briefly, is: “so far, so bad”. That is, the UK’s trade performance this year is consistent with its original estimates that UK exports and imports would both fall by 15%.

Indeed, in some respects, the data so far looks even worse than that – UK exports have already fallen by approximately this much compared to pre-pandemic levels, while advanced economies as a whole have seen trade grow. And, again in common with external analysts, the OBR sees no evidence that trade deals with third countries, or any of the other putative economic benefits of Brexit, will offset this in any meaningful way.

No model includes everything. The OBR’s is no exception. It hasn’t accounted for the damage done to education during the pandemic, especially for poorer kids. Here, the government’s failure to fund a serious catch-up programme could leave permanent scars – both economic and social. And, on the other side, a more liberal migration system towards non-European migrants could, in principle, offset some of the damage of Brexit.

But so far, it looks as if, from an economic perspective, Covid is for Christmas, while Brexit is for life.

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British pound plunges to new low as tax cuts spark concern

British pound plunges to new low as tax cuts spark concern

The British pound fell to all-time low against the U.S. dollar early Monday after Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng pledged a sweeping package of tax cuts, fueling concerns about the government’s economic policy as the United Kingdom creeps toward recession.

The pound fell as low as $1.0373, before rallying to $1.0672 in early London trading. It was its lowest level since the decimalization of the currency in 1971.

The British currency has lost more than 5% of its value against the dollar since Friday, when Kwarteng announced the biggest tax cuts in 50 years. It comes as the government plans to spend billions of pounds to help consumers and businesses struggling with high energy bills that are driving a cost-of-living crisis. The combination sparked investor concern about spiraling government debt.

Kwarteng and Prime Minister Liz Truss, who took office three weeks ago, are betting that lower taxes and reduced bureaucracy will spur economic growth and generate enough additional tax revenue to cover government spending. Economists suggest it is unlikely the gamble will pay off.

Opposition Labour Party economy spokeswoman Rachel Reeves said Kwarteng had “fanned the flames” of instability by talking up more tax cuts and said the government’s policies were “reckless.”

When grilled about his economic policy Sunday, Kwarteng said he believed the government was acting responsibly.

“There’s more to come,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “We’ve only been here 19 days. I want to see, over the next year, people retain more of their income because I believe that it is the British people that are going to drive this economy.”

As it is cutting taxes, the government plans to cap electricity and natural gas prices for homes and businesses to help cushion price rises that have been triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine and have sent inflation to near a 40-year high of 9.9%.

This program will cost 60 billion pounds, and the government will borrow to finance it, Kwarteng said Friday.

He said Sunday that it was the right policy because the government needed to help consumers squeezed by the unprecedented pressures caused by the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Britain can afford the cost because its debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is the second lowest among the Group of Seven large industrial economies, Kwarteng said. In the coming months, the government will announce plans for reducing the nation’s debt, he said.

When grilled about his economic policy Sunday, Kwarteng said he believed the government was acting responsibly.

“There’s more to come,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “We’ve only been here 19 days. I want to see, over the next year, people retain more of their income because I believe that it is the British people that are going to drive this economy.”

As it is cutting taxes, the government plans to cap electricity and natural gas prices for homes and businesses to help cushion price rises that have been triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine and have sent inflation to near a 40-year high of 9.9%.

This program will cost 60 billion pounds, and the government will borrow to finance it, Kwarteng said Friday.

He said Sunday that it was the right policy because the government needed to help consumers squeezed by the unprecedented pressures caused by the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Britain can afford the cost because its debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is the second lowest among the Group of Seven large industrial economies, Kwarteng said. In the coming months, the government will announce plans for reducing the nation’s debt, he said.

“Obviously, I will be setting out plans for the medium-term fiscal plan, as we’re calling it, that will show that we’re committed to net debt-to-GDP to be falling over time,” Kwarteng said.

The pound’s decline against the dollar also has been fueled by the Bank of England not keeping pace with the U.S. Federal Reserve’s efforts to rein in inflation. Britain’s central bank on Thursday raised interest rates by half a percentage point, compared with large three-quarter-point increase by the Fed last week. But U.K. inflation is the highest among major economies, and the bank has predicted a recession later in the year.

While the pound’s slide has accelerated in recent days, the currency has fallen steadily against the dollar for more than a year as investors sought the security of U.S. assets amid the economic shocks from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

The British currency has dropped more than 24% against the dollar since its recent peak of $1.4181 on May 27, 2021.

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37 firms get licences to produce 762.3MW

37 firms get licences to produce 762.3MW

Fresh licenses and permits have been issued to 37 companies to produce a total of 762.3 megawatts of electricity in order to boost power supply across the country, data obtained from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission showed.

An analysis of the commission’s latest Fourth Quarter 2021 Report on Sunday also indicated that the metering of power users dropped by 71.86 per cent when compared to the number of those who were metered by power distribution companies in the preceding quarter.

In the new report, the NERC said, “The commission approved the issuance of four new generation licenses with a total nameplate capacity of 508.5MW and the renewal of two existing licences in 2021/Q4.

“The commission also granted an aggregate capacity of 253.75MW captive power generation permit to eight companies and approved 25 mini-grid permits.”

It stated that 46 metering service providers consisting of 17 installers, 15 manufactures, two vendors and 12 importers were also approved by the commission in 2021/Q4

“The commission granted a total of 85 licenses and permits in 2021/Q4,” the report stated.

On metering, it stated that the huge metering gap for end-use customers was still a key challenge in the industry.

“A total of 81,084 meters were installed in 2021/Q4, as compared to the 288,154 meters installed in 2021/Q3,” the NERC stated.

Providing an explanation for this, it said, “The reduction in the number of meter installations in 2021/Q4 was largely driven by the winding down of the NMMP (National Mass Metering Programme) phase zero.

“The commission’s records indicate that, of the 10,514,582 registered energy customers as at December 2021, only 4,773,217 (45.40 per cent) have been metered compared to 42.93 per cent metering as at September 2021.”

It, however, stated that as a safeguard against overbilling of unmetered customers via estimation, the commission had set maximum limits to the amount of energy (energy caps in kWh) that might be billed to unmetered customers.

“The cap for each customer is set based on the customer category, consumption of metered customers on the same feeder and the customer’s tariff band.” the NERC stated.

It added, “The caps are computed based on three-month data of actual consumption records of metered customers on the same feeder.”

On customer complaints, the regulator stated that in 2021/Q4, cumulatively, the Discos received 222,639 complaints from consumers, as this was 24,479 (-9.91 per cent) less complaints than those received in 2021/Q3.

“In total, the Discos resolved 212,382 complaints corresponding to a 95.39 per cent resolution rate. Metering, billing, and service interruption were the prevalent sources of customer complaints, accounting for 58.83 per cent of the total complaints during the quarter,” it stated.

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Ethiopian Airlines Wins Bid For Nigeria Air

The Federal Government has selected the Ethiopian Airlines (ET) Consortium as preferred bidder for Nigeria Air.

Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika disclosed this in a media briefing on Friday in Abuja.

He said ET scored 89 percent out of 100 as regards the technical bid and 15 out 20 as regards financial bid.

Mr Sirika said the Request for Proposal (RFP) under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Act, governed by Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission(ICRC) regarding the Nigeria Air was now completed.

He said, “After a careful, detailed and ICRC governed selection process, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) Consortium has been selected as preferred bidder, offering an owner consortium of 3 Nigerian investors.

“The Nigerian investors are MRS, SAHCO and the Nigerian Sovereign Fund (46%), FGN owning 5% and ET 49%. The consortium has been subject to a due diligence process.

“The contract will be negotiated between consortium and FGN leading to a Full Business Case (FBC) which will be expected to be approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC). We expect this process to take 6-8 weeks.”

The minister said the national carrier would be launched with three Boeing 737-800 in a configuration very suitable for the Nigerian market.

Mr Sirika said Nigeria Air will be launched with a shuttle service between Abuja and Lagos to establish a new comfortable, reliable and affordable travel between the two major Nigerian Airports.

“The first aircraft is ready to arrive in Abuja for the further work and NCAA inspection, demo flights and audit as part of the AOC requirements.

“In time, two others will arrive to complete the required three aircraft for a new AOC holder. The interim executive team has prepared, with the support of FAAN.

“The team has arranged for Terminal C at the Abuja Airport and finalised a contract with MMA 2 terminal in Lagos, for the operation of an initial shuttle between Lagos and Abuja,” he said.

The Operations Control Centre (OCC) at the Abuja Airport would act as Headquarters of the airline.

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