THE debate over who was to blame for the devastating impact of the Great Recession has dominated politics for years - and is certain to frame the outcome of next year’s general election.
Senior Conservative and Labour politicians last night pointed fingers at one another in the wake of findings from the Office for National Statistics that Yorkshire was hit harder than any other part of the country.
The arguments are well rehearsed. The Tories insist that Labour over-spent in the pre-recession years, leaving the country ill-prepared for the crash, and that their own pro-business policies in Government have since helped increase private-sector employment to record levels.
For its part, Labour claims its initial response to the crisis helped prevent a full-scale depression, and that its economic stimulus was working until the Coalition came into power and “choked off” a recovery which is only now finally taking hold.
“The people of Yorkshire suffered more than most from Labour’s Great Recession,” said Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps. “But, by backing small business and enterprise, Conservatives have a long-term plan to turn this around.”
Mr Shappps was keen to stress the positive outlook for many private sector businesses.
“I was in Halifax and Leeds recently, meeting Yorkshire firms who were hiring young people, creating jobs and giving them skills for the future,” he said. “We are cutting the jobs taxes so that can happen even faster. As a result, unemployment is now falling and the proportion of people on long-term benefits has fallen to its lowest for 20 years.
“In the last year alone, Yorkshire firms have created 89,000 new private sector jobs.
“There is still more to do, but Yorkshire deserves a full recovery after Labour’s decade of waste.”
Certainly, Labour’s initial warnings that the private sector was not in a position to step in and fill the gap as public sector jobs were slashed appear to have been largely disproved.
Nationally, unemployment never hit the heights many had feared when the recession was at its peak. The number of people in work is now at record levels.
But warnings from Labour that the Tory plan to cut the entire deficit over the course of a single Parliament was both dangerous and wildly optimistic have to some extent been borne out.
There is no doubt the economy dipped sharply as the Coalition’s austerity measures kicked in - even if the alleged double-dip recession never quite materialised.
And the Government’s deficit reduction plans now look certain to take the entire decade - just as Labour had predicted.
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, the MP for Morley and Outwood, said: “This (ONS) analysis shows how our region has been hit really hard in the last few years.
“When the global banking crisis hit countries across the world, the issue was how quickly we came out of the recession that followed and how we secured the recovery. Back in 2010 there was a recovery underway, but then David Cameron and George Osborne came in and choked it off.
“Their VAT rise, the deep cuts to regional investment and jobs programmes all had a very negative impact on confidence and economic growth.
“What we need now is a plan to boost living standards for all and ensure people across the region feel the recovery.”