It's a long road back

By Jonathan Morris, May 5, 2011

There was palpable sense of relief that the official figures for gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter of the year did not show the UK as still being in recession.

However, with the economy growing by only 0.5 per cent during the period, they were not exactly a great cause for celebration either. If nothing else, it appears that the road to recovery is likely to be a long one.

The fact that growth is quite weak should not really come as a surprise to anyone. The combination of an increase in VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent and higher energy prices were bound to have a negative impact upon the economy.

The concern going forward is how much of an effect public sector expenditure cuts, high inflation and the continuing financial crisis in the Eurozone will have on our economy.

In particular, much may depend upon whether the Bank of England decides to raise interest rates later this year so as to dampen down inflation. Current sentiment seems to be that they will not do so, but we will have to wait and see.

We must encourage inward investment into the UK

So what should we do? If there were some easy answers available, people much brighter than me would have surely found them by now.

But at the very least, we should be increasing our efforts in targeting growth markets. Despite a lot of hype, many businesses are still trying to come to terms with the opportunities, as well as the challenges, presented by the so-called BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the Emerging and Growth-Leading Economies (EAGLEs). The EAGLEs include the BRICs and also South Korea, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, Egypt and Taiwan.

If we don't have them already, we all need to develop clear strategies as to how to tackle these markets.

We should also think carefully about what we can do to encourage inward investment into the UK. Rightly or wrongly, there is a growing perception outside of the UK that we are less well-disposed to overseas businesses investing being here. This is partially attributable to the public backlash against the banking community following the financial crisis, but not entirely so - the approach we have adopted towards both "non-doms" and business immigration has also contributed to this feeling. If we want overseas companies to view the UK as open for business, we need to recalibrate the message we are sending out to them.

Whilst there is, of course, no doubt that the UK economy will eventually recover its strength, there is clearly a lot we can do to influence how long it will take.

Jonathan Morris is a partner at the international law firm, Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP

Last updated: 11:54am, May 5 2011