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UK mortgage lending rises but experts warn of tough year ahead

THE number of mortgages approved by UK banks increased for the first time in four months in January, according to industry data.

However, UK Finance – the body that represents all the major high street banks – found lending to consumers fell, reflecting caution among households.

Total mortgage lending rose by 9.7 per cent to £21.9 billion in January compared with the same month a year ago.

Consumer credit declined by 0.2 percent in annual terms in January – the first drop since UK Finance’s new consumer credit series started in April 2017.

Much of the boost to mortgage lending could have come from a cut in stamp duty for first-time buyers.

But lending to businesses contracted by 1.4 per cent, with construction falling. Spending on credit cards rose by 5.8 per cent, or much faster than the growth in personal incomes, although the banks said that repayment levels on credit cards were also high.

The figures suggest that borrowers are switching away from personal loans, which declined by 15 per cent on the month, and preferring to borrow via their credit cards instead.

Deposits at banks and building societies advanced just two per cent on the year, hitting a total of £835bn, with ISA products continuing to see outflows.

UK Finance warned 2018 is likely to be a difficult year for the housing market.

Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY Item Club said: “UK Finance reported that mortgage approvals for house purchases picked up to a three-month high of 40,117 in January after slowing to a 56-month low of 36,085 in December from 39,624 in November, 40,599 in October and 41,647 in September.

“January’s rebound in mortgage approvals suggests that there may have been a hit to activity in December as a reaction to the Bank of England raising interest rates in November.

“It is also possible that cutting stamp duty for first-time buyers in the Chancellor’s Budget may have provided limited support to mortgage approvals in January. The abolition of stamp duty for first time buyers for properties costing up to £300,000 (and on the first £300,000 for properties costing up to £500,000) should also provide some support to house prices.

“It should be noted that housing market activity can be particularly volatile around Christmas and New Year.

“While January’s rebound in mortgage approvals suggests that December’s drop overstated the weakness of housing market activity, it is still subdued. Indeed, January saw mortgage approvals for house purchases at the third lowest level since September 2016.

“Furthermore, at 40,117 in January, mortgage approvals for house purchases were still 22.2 per cent below their long-term (1997-2018) average of 51,563

“The latest survey evidence also points to lacklustre housing market activity early on in 2018.

“New buyer enquiries were down for a 10th month running while agreed sales fell for an 11th month.

“The latest UK Finance mortgage approvals data does little to dilute our belief that 2018 will be a difficult year for the housing market and price gains over the year will be limited to a modest two per cent.

“The fundamentals for house buyers are likely to remain challenging. The squeeze on consumers’ purchasing power remained significant going into 2018, and it is likely to only gradually ease as the year progresses.”

Source: The National

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Shropshire Council plans to build and sell houses in bid to plug financial hole

Shropshire Council is planning to build and sell houses to make money as part of its efforts to tackle a financial black hole.

The council is suggesting the measure as one way of dealing with its financial deficit and says that the purchase of Shrewsbury’s shopping centres will also provide an income of £2.7 million in the next financial year.

Other projects the authority hope will raise money include the redevelopment of Shirehall as a ‘public sector hub’, the development of health centres and community hubs, and buying and developing commercial property.

The council also wants to sell its services to external clients, and look at new services it could provide.

These include a new library services initiative called “Fab Reads”, charging for the time of building control team staff, and fees for tree preservation orders.

The proposals will be discussed at Thursday’s Audit Committee meeting.

The move to build and sell houses has been welcomed by the council’s Labour leader Alan Mosley, who described the plan as a “far better” investment than the shopping centres.

He said: “It’s good to see that they’re looking at investing in housing, particularly the rental section, which would be a far better investment than the shopping centres in terms of social value.”

But he criticised proposals to sell some of the council’s services as a risk.

“Shropshire Council is desperate to try and fill the massive black hole in its finances and seeking additional income for services is one way,” Councillor Mosley added.

“However, as has been acknowledged in the financial strategy, there are massive risks in relying on income to fund future service needs.

“This is no way in which councils should be financing the provision of vital and critical resources for residents.”

The council’s commercial strategy, approved by cabinet in March 2017, intends to invest in schemes and projects which can deliver £10m to £15m of new revenue income over a period of five to 10 years with returns of investment exceeding 10 per cent.

A spokeswoman for Shropshire Council said: “As government funding dwindles, choosing where to make savings is getting more and more difficult, especially as demand on the services we provide for our most vulnerable residents increases.

“Our financial strategy sets out a number of savings we propose to make over the next five years in order to balance our (revenue) budget.

“A key part of this is raising income.

“We are continuing to review all of the services we deliver (over 150, across the county) to explore whether they can sell their existing services to external clients and identify any new ones they can provide.”

Source: Shropshire Star

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Lenders hike rates in response to the rising cost of funds

Mortgage lenders including Santander and Halifax have increased rates in reaction to the rising cost of funding.

Halifax and Santander hiked their rates this week, as detailed in notifications sent to mortgage intermediaries.

Other lenders putting up rates include HSBC, TSB, Barclays, Fleet and Family Building Society.

Henry Woodcock, principal mortgage consultant at IRESS, said: “Swap rates have started to rise, recently by 15 basis points in a month, increasing costs to lenders.

“It is inevitable these costs will be passed on to the consumer.

“As the Bank of England has talked about interest rates rising sooner rather than later and more than once in the year, the pressure on swap rates is likely to increase – forcing lenders to pull some of their most competitive deals.”

Santander has notified brokers that from today it will increase rates on 2 and 5-year fixes, including Help to Buy products, by between 0.04% and 0.10%.

It will also raise some 5-year fixed rate product fees by between £500 and £900.

However Santander has cut trackers by between 0.15% and 0.30%.

Halifax yesterday raised rates by up to 0.20% on 2-year fixed rate homemover products at 90% and 95% loan-to-value.

It also increased 2-year fixed rate affordable housing, shared equity/shared ownership products at 90% LTV.

And it has raised 95% first-time buyer rates at 95% LTV by 0.19%.

Family Building Society is raising rates by between 0.10% and 0.35% across its owner occupier and buy-to-let ranges – although applications at the previous rate will be accepted until 6 March.

Rob Ashley-Roche, principal of Rest Assured Mortgages, said: “What generally seems to be happening is lenders are making 90% and 95% loan-to-value stuff more attractive.

“They’ve got more appetite, unlike a few years ago when high loan-to-value rates were really high and 60% were really low.”

Alan Ward, chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, reckoned buy-to-let landlords will be able to cope with the rate increases for now.

He said: “There is sufficient choice in the market for the increases not to be significant at this stage.

“It’s important to note that it’s not just about rates – it’s about the cost of fees and legals.”

Source: Mortgage Introducer

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Chelmsford residents slam property developer about plan to build 120 homes and expand primary school

Residents in a Chelmsford village have criticised property developers after they relaunched an application to build more than 100 homes and expand a primary school.

Bellway Homes has submitted new plans to build on a greenbelt site at the bottom of Aragon Road in Great Leighs.

The application also outlines proposals to expand Great Leighs Primary School on the same road.

The new plans come just two months after Bellway’s initial proposal to build 205 houses on the same site were refused by Chelmsford City Council after they deemed the site “unsuitable for development”.

The land is not part of any site earmarked for development as part of Chelmsford City Council’s LDP.

Why do local residents reject these proposals?

The site is located next to the school

Bob and Lorraine Wale, who live at 17 Aragon Road, started a campaign to halt the original plans and feel that the new proposal is no better.

Bob, 55, who works as a yacht broker, said: “We bought this house five years ago knowing that we would have busy traffic twice a day because of the school.

“But if more than 100 houses are built, there are going to be hundreds of cars having to get down Aragon Road at the same time as the school run.

“This road will become jammed. Everyone around there will have to use a car as well because there are no local shops.

“They are not really considering the people of Great Leighs. We want to preserve the intrinsic character of the village.”

Lorraine, also 55, said: “We worked really hard last time out to make sure everyone knew how to object to the application.

“No one wants the development here.”

Resident reasons against Great Leighs development

  • Site was not earmarked in Chelmsford City Council’s Local Plan.
  • Would ruin countryside views.
  • Access road (Aragon Road) will be a danger at peak times.
  • Pick-up points highlighted in Bellway’s Plans are not sufficient.
  • Only one way out into the village will cause problems especially at peak times.

Debbie Niccol, 54, lives on the same road and also objects to the recent application.

“I am furious about the plans,” she said.

“The council has already outlined all of the sites earmarked for development.

“This was deemed unsuitable.”

Debbie bought her current house three years ago and moved into the area because of its ‘village feel’.

But she fears that if this plan is pushed through the character of the village will be lost.

She added: “We bought our house because we loved the village feel.

“We don’t want it to become a housing estate – once you start getting bigger it becomes a faceless community.

“There is not enough infrastructure in place.

“All of the reasons that it didn’t go through last time have not changed.

“I am absolutely sick of these developers – I feel we do not have a voice in all of this.”

Developers are proposing an access road from Aragon Road

Jackie Ritchie, who also lives in the area, said: “There are not enough transport links.

“The road will be a nightmare for the school.

“I take my son to Chelmer Valley High School and I cannot get out of my road as it is.

“The plans will not work because people will not park in the designated areas, they will park as close to the school as they can.

“I do not know if it will go through or not but I can see myself being pushed out if it does go ahead.”

The site would be located behind Kay Close, Audley Road and Aragon Road.

Bellway say they have addressed the concerns made by residents in the area by adapting the plan.

Great Leighs Primary School has also been approached for a comment.

How do the new plans differ from the old proposals?

Bellway Homes submitted an Outline Planning Application to Chelmsford City Council on February 5.

The application is for 120 new homes with public open space, landscaping and land for expansion of Great Leighs Primary School.

The site is located to the north of Longlands Farm and Boreham Road at the bottom of Aragon Road.

It is on the same site as their previous application for 205 homes which was refused by the council on November 27, 2017.

Here are the similarities and differences between the two applications:

  • 120 new homes (including 35 per cent affordable) down from 205 homes.
  • Still include fully equipped play areas and land for Great Leighs Primary School.
  • Vehicular access from Aragon Road.
  • No vehicular access to Boreham Road.
  • Parking in the development for pick-up and drop-off to the school.
  • Retention of existing public rights of way.
  • Inclusion of 15m green buffer to Sandylay Woodland.

A spokesperson for Bellway said: “We have worked in consultation with the local Council and community to take all views into consideration and ultimately, to make amendments to our plans.

“As part of this, we have significantly reduced the number of homes from 205 to 120.

“We look forward to making progress on this development, and delivering much needed new homes in this popular area.”

Source: Essex Live

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Savage buy-to-let remortgage lottery

FOR some, the words buy-to-let ‘landlord’ might drag us back to the feudal system from which it was derived, and give the meaning: ‘the bad man in top hat with lots of money’. For others, it’s the person doing their best to stay alive in an ever-problematic, heavily taxed and low interest rate environment.

When interest rates plummeted, many investors turned to second properties to provide themselves with a secondary income as inflation wiped away their hard earned savings (taxed savings earned through taxed income, I might add).

Inflation at 3 per cent with a return on your investments of 1 per cent means you are earning minus 2 per cent. If you are taking 4 per cent of your capital as income to stay alive your capital is losing 6 per cent per year. Interest rates have been rock bottom for nearly 10 years.

So we decide to take a risk with capital through equities or property to maximise that return and now become – a landlord.

Last week we mentioned the headwind for buy-to-let landlords where mortgage rates will be increasing (due to the Bank of England rate changes), remortgage rates will be increasing due to new stringent lending criteria for buy to let landlords, and landlords will (after 2020) only be able to have 20 per cent of their mortgage payments available as a tax credit.

Consider also the potential risk of the term funding scheme. Under that, banks were allowed to borrow very cheap money from the scheme. They filled their boots at around £106 billion.

Now they have to pay it back. Banks will have to offer higher savings rates to attract money in, and if so, there is the threat of higher rates again to cover that – the perfect storm. When the forecast tells you it’s coming by 2020, you don’t want to be in your rubber dinghy, far from shore.

Ronan Marrion, our mortgage specialist, has these five tips for you:

1. Each bank stress tests your ability to repay your mortgages differently to decide if they will lend to you and how much. They base this on: the rent you will receive; a rental cover (how much your rent will cover a mortgage); and a stress tested interest rate (the rate at which they want to know you can still repay your mortgage). Taking a person with a rent of £1,000, with one lender, the rental cover is 180 per cent and a stress test at 5.5 per cent mortgage rate, meaning maximum borrowing of £121,212. The same borrower goes to another specialist lender where their rental cover is just 125 per cent and a stress test rate of 3.79 per cent, meaning you could borrow £253,298.

2. Every time you apply for a remortgage/mortgage there is a footprint left which lowers your credit rating and can flip a future application from an acceptance to a decline, based on a computer assessing you as ‘desperate to find credit’. So, use an independent mortgage broker to go straight to the lender of choice, who you already know will do it and don’t leave a destruction trail behind. There are many lenders who only offer their mortgages via a mortgage broker as they have the case packaged correctly to ensure it fits.

3. If you have more than three buy-to-let mortgaged properties, some lenders will not lend to you at all as you are classed as a ‘portfolio landlord’, but others will. Don’t leave that rejection trail behind you.

4. Some banks still use the old stress test methods meaning you will be able to borrow more, whilst other specialist lenders look at each unique set of circumstances, opening up the possibility of a common sense conversation about your business proposal.

5. Fees for remortgages range wildly from 0 per cent to 3.5 per cent but whilst added to the loan is still nothing more than a rate hike and money for old rope for the lender. Whilst the costs and availability vary wildly, an experienced mortgage broker can cut through that and have you off to the right lender in no time.

By Peter McGahan, owner of independent financial adviser Worldwide Financial Planning.

Source: Irish News

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UK mortgage bill ‘would increase by £10 billion with a 1% interest rate rise’

A 1% rise in interest rates would add around £10 billion to the UK’s mortgage bill, according to analysis from property adviser Savills.

The increase would equate to adding £930 a year to the cost of servicing the average mortgage.

Borrowers on variable rate deals influenced by movements in the Bank of England base rate would be the first to feel the pain, putting the annual mortgage bill up by £4.3 billion immediately, Savills said.

The six in 10 (59%) of borrowers on fixed-rate deals would feel the impact later, when their existing mortgage deals come to an end.

Of the total increase, Savills calculates that buy-to-let landlords would pay an additional £2.4 billion, with other home owners paying £7.8 billion more.

“This would bring an end to the historically low mortgage costs that have boosted housing affordability and limit the buying power of those needing a mortgage, and underscores our forecasts for more subdued house price growth over the next five years,” said Lucian Cook, head of residential research at Savills.

Savills forecasts that average UK house price growth will stand at 14% in total over the next five years.

Borrowers are bracing themselves for further possible interest hikes following the increase last year from 0.25% to 0.5%.

Earlier this month, Bank of England boss Mark Carney braced borrowers for further and faster interest rate hikes, although he also stressed rises would be limited and gradual.

With the possibility of further base rate rises on the horizon, home owners looking to lock into a long-term deal to get some certainty over their repayments may also find the rates on offer have edged up.

Website Moneyfacts.co.uk reported last week that average rates on 10-year fixed-rate mortgages on the market have started to edge up from an all-time low.

Savills said the total number of outstanding mortgages has fallen by over half a million over the past 10 years, as existing home owners have cleared their mortgage debts at the same time as younger households have struggled to access the market over the past decade.

Savills based its research on Bank of England and UK Finance figures.

Source: Yahoo Finance UK

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Bank of England’s Ramsden sees case to raise rates sooner than he thought

The Bank of England might need to raise British interest rates somewhat sooner than Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden had expected if wage growth picks up early this year, according to a newspaper interview released on Saturday.

Ramsden was one of two policymakers who opposed the BoE’s decision in November to raise interest rates for the first time in a decade, but appears to have shifted his stance somewhat in comments published by the Sunday Times newspaper.

Earlier this month the central bank said interest rates might need to rise somewhat sooner and by somewhat more over the next three years than policymakers had expected in November, due to a strong global economy and signs wages are rising faster.

“We all will keep a close eye on what happens through the early part of this year to see if that (BoE) forecast of wage growth picking up to 3 percent is realised,” Ramsden was quoted as saying by the Sunday Times.

“But certainly relative to where I was, I see the case for rates rising somewhat sooner rather than somewhat later.”

RATE RISES EXPECTED

Economists polled by Reuters expect the BoE to raise interest rates to 0.75 percent from 0.5 percent by May, and financial markets price in a high chance of a further rate rise to 1 percent before the end of 2018.

The BoE’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, told lawmakers on Wednesday that he thought interest rates might need to rise slightly faster even than the central bank had expected when it set out fresh economic forecasts early in the month.

However, Governor Mark Carney said at the same event that future monetary policy decisions would depend heavily on how businesses and consumers react to ongoing talks on the terms of Britain’s departure from the European Union in March 2019.

Britain’s economy underperformed other major advanced economies last year, due to a hit to consumer demand from higher inflation triggered by the pound’s fall after the Brexit vote, as well as comparatively weak business investment.

The unemployment rate also rose slightly in the final quarter of 2017, though at 4.4 percent it remains near a 42-year low.

Ramsden told the Confederation of British Industry on Friday that the economy could not grow faster than 1.5 percent a year without starting to add to inflation pressures.

Source: UK Reuters

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Putting the London housing market in perspective

Over the last few months there has been intense speculation about the short to medium term direction of London house prices. Brexit has been used time and time again to batter the market and decimate investor confidence. While in reality London is a separate market to the rest of the UK this is not something which is always recognised by those looking at attention grabbing headlines. So, how does the London housing market compare to the rest of the UK?

LONDON HOUSING NOW WORTH £1.5 TRILLION

A recent report by Zoopla will surprise many people confirm that London is not only head and shoulders above the next largest city but the next nine largest cities. Yes, London housing is now valued at around £1.5 trillion while the next nine largest cities in the UK have a combined housing value of £678 billion. So, London is worth literally more than twice the combined value of the next nine largest cities in the country!

To give you an example, Bristol is the second city on the list with homes worth around £115 billion, around 1/13th (£115.21b) of combined London house values. Sheffield, which is number nine on the list of largest cities in the UK, comes in with a combined house value which is 1/27th (£55.67b) of the combined London value. It is difficult to appreciate how large the London housing market is, in terms of value, compared to the rest of the UK. London literally is a market within a market.

SCOTLAND CATCHING THE EYE OF INVESTORS

As we touched on above, London is literally head and shoulders above the rest of the UK when it comes to property values. However, it was interesting to see that Glasgow, second on the highest growth list with a value of £90.75 billion, saw prices increase by 5.4% last year. Edinburgh, in sixth place, has a combined value of £68.27 billion which is significantly less than Glasgow, something which will surprise many people. Could the Scottish housing market be turning? Are people seeing a potential Scottish independence referendum, in the short to medium term, as more positive than ever before?

In many ways Scotland has become something of a political football with Westminster and the Scottish government constantly at loggerheads. There were concerns that the Scottish economy was struggling as both parties took their eye off the ball, but recent information would suggest that the Scottish economy is starting to pick up again. There is no doubt that the crash in the oil price just a couple of years ago had a massive impact on areas such as Aberdeen, with a very strong oil and gas industry, but the price is starting to recover which will assist the overall Scottish economy.

TAKING LONDON OUT OF THE EQUATION

When you bear in mind the size of the London housing market, especially when compared to the rest of the UK, constant comparisons between the two have relatively little value. London is literally an economy within an economy and a property market within a property market. Perhaps we should start quoting UK house prices excluding London to give a fairer impression of values and trends?

Source: Property Forum

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Not sure you want to buy a house? Five alternative options for your money

There are plenty of reasons why you might not want to buy a house: it’s very expensive, it’s inflexible and the housing market is having a bit of a wobble right now. Here are five alternative options for your finances while you make your mind up.

Save for your retirement

It’s boring, but it’s good. You should have a pension at work, but consider supplementing it with a private pension. Groups such as Hargreaves Lansdown or AJ Bell offer read-made Sipp options. Adrian Lowcock, investment director at Architas, says: “Many young investors have a 30 – 40 year investment horizon.  Given this long term focus you are in a position to take some risks, although that doesn’t mean unnecessary risks.  An increased focus on shares makes sense as over the longer term they have been the best performing asset class. By deciding to rent you will need to make sure you have the finances in place to pay rent when you stop earning, which means that you will need a much larger pension and retirement pot than someone who owns their own home.”

Property funds

These are a way to get exposure to the residential or commercial property market, but without having to buy a whole building. The TM HearthstoneUK Residential Property fund, for example, invests in a range of house types across the country so it is broadly in line with the make up of the UK’s housing market. This makes it useful for ‘Generation Rent’ because it helps their money keep pace with house price inflation while they save. Historically residential property provides low volatility and attractive returns with low correlation to equities and bonds so it can also be useful for diversification.

You could also try commercial property funds. Kay Ingram, director of public policy at LEBC, says: “Commercial property funds invest in offices, shops, factories and warehousing. The value of commercial property goes up and down but the main contributor to investment returns is the rental yield. Most commercial leases are long and contain upward only reviews. This can provide inflation proofing.”

Buy to let

23 providers now offer buy-to-let mortgages for first-time buyers, according to data site Moneyfacts,  which offers an alternative way of helping first-time buyers onto the property ladder. You can buy in a cheaper spot, for example, and rent it out without having to move yourself. If you do it right, you may even be able to generate an additional income from it – though take into account estate agents fees and repairs, which can add up. See our article here

Invest to create an income

Savings accounts don’t pay much at all, but you can find plenty of collective investment funds that focus on dividend-paying shares. These will often pay around 4% (though the income is not guaranteed) and give you some extra income. You may even get some capital growth if the stock market rises. Consider keeping it in an Isa to make sure it is tax-free

Give yourself flexibility

Life changes, stuff happens – don’t rule out buying a home just yet. If the property market crashes, you might just be tempted. Lowcock says: “Getting some investments in place to give you the flexibility to choose is essential. It means you won’t become trapped by decisions you made earlier in life. Using the Lifetime ISA could be an effective way of doing this as it has duel function of allowing people to save for a deposit and a pension in retirement, meaning you don’t have to make a decision right away.”

Source: Your Money

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Bank of England’s Ramsden says weak productivity is key for rates

Uncertainty over the outlook for Britain’s weak productivity growth is a key factor for monetary policy, Bank of England Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden said on Friday.

Ramsden was one of two policymakers to oppose November’s rate rise, the first in a decade. He shed little light on his latest views in his first speech since then.

“Overall, it’s the MPC’s view that the economy’s speed limit is likely to be around 1.5 percent,” he told businesses at an event organised by the Confederation of British Industry.

“With very little spare capacity in the economy, even the unusually weak actual growth of around 1.75 percent over the forecast horizon… is still sufficient to generate excess demand,” he added.

Earlier this month the BoE also said it might need to raise rates sooner and by slightly more than it had expected in November to keep inflation under control. Ramsden did not directly address this.

Instead, he highlighted the role of weak productivity growth in lowering the rate at which the BoE believes the economy can grow without pushing inflation above target. The central bank has little experience steering an economy that is not in recession but growing by less than 2 percent a year, he added.

“The weakness of, and uncertainty around, the path of UK productivity is a key driver of these unusual developments and is therefore a key consideration for monetary policy,” he said.

UNCERTAINTY

Most economists polled by Reuters expect interest rates to rise again by May, and financial markets price in a further rate rise by the end of the year, which would take rates to 1 percent.

British productivity – measured in terms of output per hour worked – has stagnated since the financial crisis, probably suffering it weakest decade since the early 19th century according to official statisticians.

Figures earlier this week showed signs of a pick-up, but the BoE expects it to run at only around half its historic average of 2 percent over the next few years.

Ramsden said there was major uncertainty over whether productivity growth would return to its pre-crisis average of 2 percent.

“After such a long period of weak productivity growth it is reasonable to argue that we are in a new paradigm of lower productivity growth, and that is reinforced by the global nature of the weakness,” he said.

That said, productivity has been volatile in the past and has still ultimately returned to a 2 percent growth rate, he said.

Britain’s departure from the European Union in March next year was also holding back investment and productivity, and this was likely to endure until there is clarity about future trading arrangements, he added.

The CBI’s director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, speaking at the same event, urged the government to ensure that businesses could still easily hire EU workers after Brexit.

Source: UK Reuters