Tag Archives: Prem Sikka

Prem Sikka: “If austerity is over, the Chancellor must present a plan to invest in our economy”

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s number one focus should be investing in a sustainable economy, argues Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex. 

In a recent article, Sikka (below right) observes that in the face of Brexit uncertainties, many businesses are withholding investment. But to meet the challenge, the government will need to abandon almost of its headline polices.

He points out that historically, the private sector has shown little appetite for long-term risks and the state invested heavily in biotechnology, telecommunications, postal, information technology, utilities, shipping, railways, airlines and many other long-term industries.

For the last 40 years, the government has privatised most of these industries and relied on a variety of tax incentives to persuade the private sector to invest.

Sikka’s verdict: the results have not been encouraging – investment slumped

The lowest ratio of investment to GDP in EU countries was recorded by Greece (12.6%), followed by Portugal (16.2%) and the United Kingdom (16.9%). And since the 1990s, the UK R&D expenditure has fluctuated between 1.53% and 1.67% of GDP, well below the EU average.

Successive governments made a deliberate decision to prioritise the service sector though it is the manufacturing sector which generally generates more skilled, semi-skilled and higher paid jobs. Its multiplier effect – the ability to generate additional jobs – is also greater as the items need to delivered, maintained and repaired. Yet the manufacturing sector has continued to shrink and now accounts for around 9% of the UK GDP compared to 30% in China, 20% in Germany, 12% in the US and 19% in Japan.

Without adequate purchasing power, people cannot afford to buy goods and services and that itself discourages investment.

Investment, innovation and R&D need to be accompanied by sustainable demand. Since 2010, the government has been wedded to building a low-wage economy. Workers’ share of the GDP for the second quarter of 2018 stands at 49.3% of GDP, compared to 65.1% in 1976.

At the same time, the increases in gas, water, electricity, rents and travel costs have further eroded people’s purchasing power. The inevitable consequence of squeeze on household budgets has been the closure of shops such as Carpetright, Jamie’s Italian, Maplin, Marks & Spencer, Mothercare, Poundworld, Prezzo and Toys R Us, just to mention a few.

The Chancellor needs to find ways of boosting people’s purchasing power

This could be done by curbs on profiteering by utilities and train companies, raising the minimum wage and state pension, ending gender discrimination and pay rise for women and public sector workers, abolition of university fees, and ensuring that the tax-free personal allowances for income tax purposes match the minimum wage.

Sikka emphasises the urgent need for state investment in providing social infrastructure, transport, house-building, green industries, artificial intelligence, space and other industries and Hines proposes a Green New Deal infrastructure programme, offering jobs in every constituency.

In the Guardian, Colin Hines, convener of the Green New Deal Group, recently wrote about a GND infrastructure programme which would contribute substantially towards reducing Britain’s domestic carbon emissions and also address the serious threat of rapid and ubiquitous automation raised by Yvette Cooper.

Two major labour-intensive sources of local jobs were advocated: face-to-face caring in the public and private sector and infrastructural provision and improvements. Both are difficult to automate and can’t be relocated abroad.

Infrastructural provision and improvements are crucial to tackling climate change, prioritising energy efficiency and the increased use of renewables in constructing and refurbishing every UK building. In transport the emphasis would be on increased provision of interconnected road and rail services in every community, encouraging electric vehicles for private use. Hines added that the advantages of this programme include:

  • improving social conditions,
  • protecting the environment,
  • offering opportunities in every constituency,
  • requiring a wide range of skills for work that will last decades
  • and helping to improve conditions and job opportunities for “left behind” communities in the UK.

Sikka ends: “Neoliberals will no doubt respond with the usual comment ‘we can’t afford it.’ But can we afford stagnation, economic decline, social conflict and instability? The answer is a clear no. A government which can bailout banks with billions oquantitative easing, appease corporations and wealthy elites with tax cuts and guarantees profits through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and subsidies to film companies, can also find resources for economic welfare. If it chooses not to, it should make way for someone who can”.

 

 

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What is the main solution to the UK’s weak productivity growth?

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Chris Giles (FT) is examining why Britain is suffering from weak productivity growth. As part of his series, he wants to hear what readers think is the main solution to the UK’s weak productivity growth since the financial crisis of 2008. Share thoughts directly with him at ask@ft.com. Some may be published in a follow-up piece.

Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex, who tweets here, has already published thoughts on the subject. Briefly:

UK company dividends are high & investment low

This lack of investment and innovation means that the country’s productivity is low. The output per hour worked in the UK is about 16% below the average for the rest of the G7 advanced economies. The UK productivity is around 27% below that of Germany – despite the UK labour force working almost the longest hours in the western world and the country is neither rebuilding its manufacturing base, nor developing new technologies.

He itemises the boardroom dominance of accountants:

Sikka then argues that short-termism, leading to the neglect of the long-term prosperity of companies and the economy, has been accelerated by the boardroom dominance of accountants.

Compared with other developed countries, UK companies are paying out the highest proportion of their earnings in dividends.

According to the Bank of England’s chief economist, in 1970 major UK companies paid £10 in dividends out of each £100 of profits – but by 2015 the amount was between £60 and £70. 

And at the same time as paying this large percentage in dividends many companies were downsizing labour and reducing investment, lagging behind the EU average:

Sikka asserts that the most effective way to disrupt the accounting-think prevalent in boardrooms is by appointing directors who are focused on the long-term – appointing employees and consumers so that they can challenge the obsession with short-term returns and promote investment in productive assets.

Giles quotes Lord Andrew Tyrie, new chair of the Competition and Markets Authority, who told companies in July to stop “ripping people off” or face the full force of the watchdog’s sanctions. His focus is mostly on regulated markets such as banking and energy, where companies are accused of exploiting vulnerable households by extracting a “loyalty penalty” if they do not switch suppliers.

Lord Tyrie told MPs during his confirmation hearing for the CMA in April that retail banking and auditing were parts of the economy that did not work in the interests of the public or productivity.

Scott Corfe, chief economist at the Social Market Foundation, a think-tank, claimed that pro-competition moves had some potential for raising productivity growth rates. He suggested that consumers should be switched between energy suppliers automatically after several years to stop companies exploiting customer inertia.

See this video: https://www.ft.com/content/ae25a5bc-9405-11e8-b747-fb1e803ee64e (possible paywall)

After noting that since the mid-2000s, British industries have become more concentrated, with fewer companies enjoying larger market shares, Giles focusses on this ‘one key question’:

Is inadequate competition contributing to Britain’s feeble growth in output per hour worked? 

 

We look forward to the next article in the series.

 

 

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 Top posts  

Brexit: moving away from globalisation towards self-reliance.

In this post, Colin Hines draws attention to Green MEP Molly Scott Cato’s publication and launch of a report by Victor Anderson and Rupert Read: ‘Brexit and Trade Moving from Globalisation to Self-reliance’. Read more here.

Prem Sikka: a critic of the Pin-Stripe Mafia

Accounting professor Prem Sikka received the Abraham Briloff award from The Accountant and International Accounting Bulletin.

The award was presented at a conference and awards dinner in London on 4 October – The Digital Accountancy Forum & Awards 2017. Read more here.

 

 

 

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