Belfast Telegraph

Mayor hails 'economic renaissance'

Britain's economy has had its "Costa Concordia moment" and can now become the biggest in Europe, Boris Johnson has said.

The London mayor said the country is on the verge of an "economic renaissance" and threw his backing behind Chancellor George Osborne's economic plan.

Speaking at the Institute of Directors (IoD) annual convention, Mr Johnson said: "It's fair to say that the UK economy has finally reached its Costa Concordia moment.

"Because after two-and-half years of parbuckling the labour is complete and the rotation has been accomplished and though the damage is still I think manifest and the caissons have not yet been entirely drained of debt, I think you would agree that the keel is off the rocks and at last we can feel motion, relief.

"And I have no inclination whatever to hand back the wheel to the people who were on the bridge when we ran aground.

"And to claim to have abolished boom and bust, they were frankly only half right.

"To continue this nautical metaphor I believe that we should continue on the course we have set and that George Osborne has set.

"We are starting to see signs of an economic renaissance in Britain of the kind that my generation once thought would never come."

Mr Johnson pointed out that British brands are the first choice for many at the forefront of growing economies around the world.

He said: "In our lifetimes this country will not only be demographically one of the biggest economies in Europe but in output as well we have every chance of being the biggest economy in Europe."

He went on: "Around the world I see British brands catching on wherever people are in the process of embourgeoisment, which we Conservatives support and which is happening all over the place in huge numbers."

Chancellor George Osborne urged businesses to trade more with China to "transform Britain's fortunes".

He pointed to figures this week that showed Chinese investment in the UK is up 95% since 2011 and said China should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat.

"China is a massive opportunity for UK businesses," Mr Osborne said.

"Ten years ago Chinese GDP was a little less than the UK's. By 2020, it will be five times as big. Let's not see that as a threat to Britain, let's see it as a huge opportunity."

Mr Osborne also insisted the economy was "turning a corner" and pointed to the sell-off of Lloyds bank shares which has netted the taxpayer £61 million profit.

He said: "The British economy is looking better. The economy is growing in all sectors. British businesses have now created 1.4 million new jobs.

"And almost five years to the day after the near collapse of the British banking system we have started to sell off our shares in the banks and to get taxpayers' money back.

"Britain is turning a corner but we have a long way to go.

"At home, our economy is still in the early stages of recovery. Unemployment and our deficit are both still too high.

"Abroad, while the extreme risks in the euro area have been reduced they do remain and emerging market economies have slowed as capital flows to recovering advanced economies have come back.

"And so my message to you today is that it would be a mistake to think we can ease up in repairing our economy and fixing what went wrong."

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna stressed the need to reform Britain's "unbalanced" economy to make sure the gains of the recovery reached working families and to break the over-reliance on finance, housing and London and the south-east.

He told the IoD convention: "The Chancellor this morning referred to two quarters of growth.

"That's welcome after three years of almost no economic growth.

"But we know - for us here and for the country, it isn't nearly enough.

"We need to be doing much more to prepare our economy for these global forces that are transforming the world.

"And, in doing so, we must heed the lessons of history

"A lesson of an unbalanced economy over-reliant for growth on sectors like finance and housing, and on London and the south-east.

"A lesson of an economy where too few of the gains from growth reached working families, leaving them overstretched.

"A lesson of an economy too focused on the short-term, not on a long-term vision of the future we need.

"Because if we do not learn the lessons of history, we are destined to repeat them.

"So our challenge is to reform our economy as we return to growth.

"We cannot return to business as usual."