It's just over a week until George Osborne will get up in the Commons to deliver his autumn statement. It's being widely put about that it's going to be a 'plan for growth' first and foremost, and will likely contain further measures like credit easing and employment law review aimed at getting businesses going again.
Government and Treasury spinners have got a tough task ahead of them this week in trying to keep attention focused on the autumn statement. Here's why:
First of the possible impediments comes with the news that the government's £1bn small business fund, the UK Innovation Investment Fund, has only attracted £330m of investment. The private equity vehicle was intended to provide investment for SMEs as bank lending declined. The government put up £150m, the firms charged with running the fund invested £175m and outside investors contributed just £5m. With figures due out today expected to show that the banks have missed their lending targets as well, this isn't good news.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has published a report today stating that the UK economy faces a "slow, painful contraction" with firms delaying recruitment of more staff. According to the quarterly survey of 1,000, firms are choosing to "wait and see" rather than take on new staff at the moment, which is detrimental both to unemployment and to business output. This kind of long drawn out confidence crisis is exactly what the coalition is trying to avoid.
Next comes the unemployment figures on Wednesday morning. The Financial Times is reporting predictions that unemployment will have risen by about 100,000 to 8.2%, with more increases expected over the winter. Youth unemployment is already the highest it's been since records began in 1992. Expect a full frontal assault from Treasury and BIS ministers on the airwaves to try and keep their measures to combat this on the agenda.
Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Treasury minister Mark Hoban warned that "the crisis in the eurozone casts a long shadow over our economy". While attention remains focused on the turmoil in Greece, Italy and the eurozone in general, Osborne could struggle to keep discussion of his autumn statement away from debate about how the UK should be responding to the situation in Europe and on the measures he will announce. it goes without saying, too, that all of this provides ample ammunition for Ed Balls and his shadow treasury team when they come to respond to Osborne. The challenge for them will be to avoid 'talking down' the economy - one of the main charges they have laid at Cameron and Osborne's door over the past year or so.