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George Osborne: I am not 'panicking' about the economy
Mr Osborne said that the British economy still “faces very serious economic challenges” but denied that a series of recent criticisms from independent experts had left him concerned.

Official statistics to be released this week are expected to show that economic growth is slowly increasing.

Britain suffered a recession in 2008 and 2009, and then again at the start of last year.

Despite economic data in recent months being poor, ministers believe that this week’s figures will be positive and could mark the start of a sustained economic recovery.

However, there is a concern among Conservative strategists that voters will not notice the economic recovery as the cost of living continues to rise while wages stagnate.

Any positive reading would spare the Chancellor political embarrassment following pressure on his economic policy from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF last week suggested that the Government should strongly consider abandoning its timetable for spending cuts and tax rises, which are meant to reduce the budget deficit.

Critics of the Coalition’s strategy say that austerity policies are choking growth, which in turn reduces tax revenues and forces the Government to borrow more.

Despite a growing sense of optimism among Conservatives, independent forecasters say that Britain still faces years of below-par growth.

The IMF last week cut its forecast for growth this year to just 0.7 per cent. Next year’s expansion will be only 1.4 per cent, the fund expects.

Fitch, the ratings agency, last week cut Britain’s AAA status, the second agency to do so, because of weak growth.

Speaking during an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Osborne was asked whether he was in a “panic” about the credit rating downgrade and the criticism from the IMF.

“No,” Mr Osborne said. “The answer is no.”

He criticised Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s chief economist, and said he represented just “one voice”.

“What the IMF has said actually is that the United Kingdom is forecast to grow more that Germany and France, than the rest of the eurozone,” Mr Osborne said.

“That is one voice, one person. The chief economist has a well-known set of views on this which he has expressed in various forms over several years.”

The Chancellor added: “The British economy of course faces very serious economic challenges. The fact that the rest of our neighbours are having an even tougher economic time does not help because a lot of our exports do go there.”

His comments came after the Archbishop of Canterbury warned that Britain is in the depths of an economic depression.

The Most Rev Justin Welby, a former City oil trader, called for a radical overhaul of the financial system including the break-up of at least one major state controlled bank and a return to smaller, regional banks, curbing the dominance of London.

“I would argue that what we are in at the moment is not a recession but essentially some kind of depression,” he said. “It therefore takes something very, very major to get us out of it in the same way as it took something very major to get us into it.”

Mr Osborne said he agreed with the Archbishop’s comments but refused to go as far as using the word “depression”.

Mr Osborne said: “Of course we are recovering, as indeed the Archbishop of Canterbury has reminded us, from a very deep banking crisis.

“I agree with his analysis. I don’t use that word [depression]. I agree with his analysis that we have a slow and difficult recovery because of the difficulties in the banking system.”
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