Next month we will come up to what might have been an important milestone for the government.
23 March will be one year since it launched its ‘Plan for Growth' – the ambitions and accountability framework designed to structure the government's economic policy.
At the time we had been calling for a ‘Growth Mandate' – effectively an economic strategy to match the clarity of its fiscal strategy – the ‘Fiscal Mandate'.
Sadly the Plan for Growth has so far proved to be a very poor cousin of the Fiscal Mandate.
For a start, I don't think many even in the Westminster bubble could name the Plan for Growth as the government's overarching economic strategy. It has no visibility in the same way the deficit-reducing Fiscal Mandate has.
(For example witness calls from later in 2011 here and here for some kind of ‘plan for growth' – even though the government strategy is literally called ‘The Plan for Growth'.)
But this failure is really a symptom and not a cause of where the government's strategy is falling down.
The Plan for Growth set out four ambitions for the UK of 2015:
• To create the most competitive tax system in the G20• To make the UK one of the best places in Europe to start, finance, and grow a business• To encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy• To create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe
It's not that these areas are wrong or unworthy. It's that they're a little too vague and too broad to have enough meaning either for businesses or people on the street, or, importantly, for Whitehall policy-makers looking for a way to prioritise economic policy initiatives.
It doesn't have to be like this.
How about changing:
‘encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy'
‘increase the proportion of annual ouput accounted for by net investment and exports by five percentage points'.
This is stretching and not wholly within the government's control – but it certainly would make a difference to the overall economy levers and the government is not without levers it could pull.
Underneath the ambition we could have measurables including increasing the proportion of companies exporting more than 25% of their turnover or increasing the market capitalisation of AIM by 10%. The government could then introduce policies to support these.
The government does seem to know the kinds of areas it needs to focus on. It just needs to be sharper with both its ambitions and its accountability framework.
23 March 2012 will not be a heralded date for the government progress on its Plan for Growth, even if it does try this.
What it could be is an opportunity for the government to refocus its economic strategy into something meaningful for the UK economy.