There is a curious chain reaction to economic recession which ensures that once people stop spending money they are simply spreading the misery of unemployment wider and faster.
The number of planning applications in Birmingham, for example, has slumped over the past year. Families are no longer re-mortgaging to extend and improve their homes, while at the other end of the scale many of the huge regeneration schemes talked-up by developers remain stuck on the drawing board.
Major planning applications that the council confidently expected would come forward have been shelved and as a result of this the local authority will receive nowhere near as much money from planning application fees and land search requests as had been expected, leaving the planning and regeneration department facing a £1.4 million hole in its budget.
In order to balance the books council leaders have agreed that jobs will have to go. Vacancies are running at more than a quarter of the total workforce and will not be filled until the current conditions improve. A review of management services will see further posts disappear.
It is not, therefore, simply blue collar workers affected by the recession. Middle class planning officers, who three or four years ago could hardly have conceived that Birmingham’s booming regeneration scene would slam so swiftly into reverse gear, are in danger of joining car workers on the way to the nearest Job Centre.
One difficulty for the council, and indeed for any employer, is that when the recovery comes it must make sure it can cash in. Birmingham’s planning department cannot risk a return to the bad old days when it took months or even years to approve major regeneration applications, but that is a clear risk if staffing is cut too sharply.