This week, Osborne’s successor Philip Hammond staked out his own priority: turning around Britain’s long-standing productivity problem to meet the challenges of leaving the European Union. Hammond used his first budget statement to address what he called the “shocking” gap between productivity growth in Britain and almost all other large rich countries, something which threatens to gnaw away at the economy and workers’ wages. “We lag the U.S. and Germany by some 30 percentage points. But we also lag France by over 20 and Italy by eight,” he told parliament on Wednesday. “Which means in the real world, it takes a German worker four days to produce what we make in five, which means, in turn, that too many British workers work longer hours for lower pay than their counterparts,” he said. “That has to change if we are to build an economy that works for everyone.” Hammond put money behind his pledge, saying he will borrow 23 billion pounds ($29 billion) to invest more in housing, transport and digital infrastructure and research over the next five years. Beyond 2020, he promised to increase investment in economic infrastructure to between 1.0 and 1.2 percent of economic output each year, up from 0.8 percent now. While modest in terms of overall spending – Hammond also announced a 122-billion-pound increase in government borrowing, limiting his budget options – the decision to borrow in order to invest represented a break with Osborne’s more rigid approach to running the public finances.
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