CUTTING ROOM

CUTTING ROOM - My debt to three Lib Dem moles; Pizza Express on the rack; campaigning for an earlier Budget; look inside the box first; feelgood factors ... Evan Davis at large.

by EVAN DAVIS, economics editor of the BBC
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

My debt to three Lib Dem moles; Pizza Express on the rack; campaigning for an earlier Budget; look inside the box first; feelgood factors ... Evan Davis at large.

As we see an old year out, I feel I should update some previous items written in this column. And I think I should start by saying something nice about the Liberal Democrat economics team, having attacked one Lib Dem MP in August.

I'm not going to endorse Lib Dem views. My BBC job wouldn't allow it, even if I wanted to. And anyway, the Lib Dems have a tendency to berate Britain's unbalanced economy and the overvalued exchange rate while offering no very constructive policy for rebalancing things or getting the exchange rate down.

But the Lib Dems (especially Matthew Taylor and Rob Blackie) get my prize as unsung heroes who, without expecting reward or favour, offer a useful daily commentary on economic goings-on. I know I'm not the only journalist to have noticed their help. Much of what they say can barely be described as partisan. It's almost as if they work as a think tank rather than a political party.

I'm sure the chancellor doesn't see it that way, but he probably doesn't benefit from their reminders, pointing out what statistics have just been released and what to look for in them. And he probably doesn't get timely calls from MEP Chris Huhne, alerting us all to the goings-on in Brussels.

Of course, Lib Dems have an ideology and an axe to grind. But the grinding is so gentle, it is easily disregarded and the underlying points adopted as one's own. I feel it is only right to 'fess up to the help they donate to the hard-pressed journalist.

Exactly a year ago on this page, I predicted for 2002 that 'things will start to look bad at Pizza Express'. I had more comments from people on that item than any other I've written. Mostly, people seemed to agree with me.

Since then, Pizza Express shares have fallen by about two-thirds, and the company has b een forced to increase the size of its pizzas. It is manifestly in a crisis. I take no pleasure in having being totally right about it, and unfortunately I made no money from my foresight. What I have done, though, is desert it for the far superior wood-oven flavour of the pizzas at the Strada restaurant chain, which is just taking off around the area I live in.

In a little piece I wrote in November 2000 about the Budget, I mentioned a suggestion that this chancellor's statement should be scheduled for midday rather than 3.30pm, to give press and television journalists time to digest its contents fully before the evening deadlines. That would improve the accuracy of our coverage.

It may have escaped you, but Parliament is about to be reformed, and will be observing more conventional working hours. MPs have at last realised there's nothing good on daytime TV anyway, so they might as well sit during working hours and watch during the evening. The logic of the reform is that major statements like the Budget should be scheduled earlier in the day.

Well, I spoke to the Treasury about this, only to be told that maybe the Budget would continue to be delivered later in the afternoon. Earnest mutterings were made about market-sensitive information (not that the markets are shut at 3.30 anyway).

This is a truly important issue: commentators simply do not have time to read the Budget documents properly before pronouncing on them. An extra three hours would help. Write to your MP to ensure the Treasury does not scupper this change.

Here's a new year thought I picked up from a friend. So many people these days are thinking outside the box - presumably under the malign influence of cliches they have read while browsing the business section of the shelves in airport bookstores - that what companies actually need now are a few more people to think inside the box. Yes, we should never forget that sometimes the conventional or obvious answer to a problem can be the right one.

My fellow columnist Richard Reeves draws attention this month to findings by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex indicating that job satisfaction surveys yield more positive results if staff are interviewed on Fridays or Saturdays. These kinds of effects seem to be ubiquitous in surveys. For example, the CBI industrial trends survey tends to get more optimistic results in the spring than in the winter.

Perhaps we should run the economy on this basis - cut interest rates and increase public spending on Mondays to Wednesdays between September and February.

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