In the 1985 film Brewster’s Millions, Richard Pryor’s character is left a £300 million fortune. Provided Monty Brewster meets the challenge of blowing $30 million in 30 days he can keep the whole estate. Simply giving the money away though is forbidden and there are limits on gambling and donating to charity. The lead character embarks on a spending spree and fulfils the conditions of the will, therefore inheriting the lot.
Will we see a Brewster style spending spree in the global economy in the months ahead? Some think so. Over $5 trillion dollars of savings have been stockpiled by consumers around the world with household savings rates in many countries reaching century highs. As lockdown restrictions ease the expectation is that we will see a strong rebound in consumer spending from two sources. First, pent-up demand will be unleashed as spending patterns normalise. And second, we should see an unwinding of the forced savings squirreled away during lockdown. This boost in consumer spending, which accounts for around three-quarters of Northern Ireland GDP, will fuel an economic recovery globally, nationally and locally.
If someone had told us a year ago that we were going to go through the deepest recession in a century and end up with an unemployment rate of just 3.7%, this probably would have been considered absurd. Logic would dictate that a double-digit contraction in economic output would create a double-digit unemployment figure. But there has been little logical about the past year – as the Sunday Times columnist David Smith succinctly described it, it has been “the deepest recession, but also easily the weirdest”.
It’s hard to believe that when the Chancellor stands up at the despatch box on the 3rd March, this will be only Rishi Sunak’s second budget, and comes 51 weeks after his first. However, in that intervening period he has made another 13 fiscal announcements, with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (i.e. furlough scheme) the most significant.
January 2021 represents more than just the start of a new year. It marks the new post Brexit-era, and it brings us a step closer to a post-Covid era with the ramping up of the vaccine roll out. In some respects, this month therefore marks a turning point for Northern Ireland and our economy, and a time when we should really take stock of where we are and where we are going in the future.
For decades, the most important basic skills taught in schools were the Three “Rs” – reading , (w)riting and ‘rithmetic. In recent decades, becoming ICT literate has been added to these functional skills of literacy and numeracy. While the texting and Xbox generation have become adept at embracing technology, more so than older generations, the same is not necessarily true for literacy and numeracy. Too many of our young people leave school without mastering these basic skills. This leaves them ill equipped for the world of work and dealing with life in general. Are we doing enough to address this? Every August (bar the one just passed) social media is awash with stories on results day. Best grades ever etc. You would be forgiven for thinking we had a world class education system. That holds true for some but it is a lousy system for a significant number of others. Northern Ireland society’s fixation with school league tables breeds a one-dimensional view of educational performance. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland continues to churn out a higher proportion of school leavers without any qualifications than any other UK region. This fact receives little airtime but we can’t sweep it under the carpet. We have an unusually high tolerance threshold for this failure in our education system. This is surprising when you consider the cost associated with the social problems that flow from these sub-optimal education outcomes.