As the speaker for yesterday’s Davos British business leaders’ lunch, Boris Johnson had the audience in his hand in his usual colourful way. I grabbed his very new Chief Economic Adviser, Dr Gerard Lyons, former Chief Economist at Standard Chartered, on the way out.
How did he think we are doing economically? He told me the last big economic gathering was the IMF last October in Tokyo. There, he said, the mood about the global economy was pessimistic, but now, three months later, the mood had improved, if only slightly. There was more confidence about China and the US but still a lot of caution about Europe. Many continental economies, he said, are focusing less on the Europe debate that David Cameron seems to want to get going and more on the need to get their own economies out of recession.
Infrastructure is the buzz word at Davos: In his speech Boris called on the Chancellor to ramp up investment in housing, road and rail. ‘There’s a boom in infrastructure,’ said Lyons. As to his new job he said – ‘I’ve gone from one great role to another’. There speaks the economist politician.
What do business leaders say about the economy? Ian Cheshire is the Group Chief Executive of Kingfisher plc – Europe’s largest home improvement retailer and the owner of B & Q. This is his third Davos and he agrees that this year the mood is less gloomy than last, when there was fear for the future of the Euro and what might happen to it. ‘This year’, he said, ‘the feeling is no longer suicidal but we are still fairly depressed because of the lack of growth in Europe.’ With China’s economy showing 7 per cent growth and the U.S. with 3 per cent growth, he said, many are asking what is the starting gun to re-start growth in the UK where growth is nearer 0 per cent?