Feature - Bouncing back from the #recession: How has Britain weathered the storm?

After the boom years under New Labour, the bubble very much popped in 2008. Four years have passed since then and the economic storm has battered businesses' defences, but many firms stand firm in spite of the challenges.

The technical definition of a recession is when an economy experiences two consecutive quarters of negative growth, which is what happened in the second and third quarters of 2008; however, the human impact is often not felt until long after that.

In this way, the recession officially started in 2008, but the fall-out from this - arguably arbitrary - Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistic continues to be felt years later.

The fall in trade, available credit and consumer confidence that followed has been one of the most important challenges for both the government and businesses across the UK, yet many organisations have succeeded in spite of this. Taking a snapshot of how this period between 2008 and 2012 panned out can give businesses an idea of what they have survived.

In the beginning...

The GDP figures for 2008 tell a very clear story of how the situation deteriorated following the sub-prime mortgage crash. Quarterly growth began at 0.1 per cent, before dropping to -0.9 per cent then -1.8 per cent. It fell further, to -2.1 per cent in the final quarter - the biggest drop since the 1980s recession.

Both businesses and consumers feared the worst. Suddenly everyone was trying to live within their means again and the debt pile-up of the previous decade was a distant memory. Not such a bad thing in many ways...

Interest rates hit historic lows...

After two further quarters of contraction - of -1.5 per cent and -0.2 per cent - the country produced 0.4 per cent growth in the third and fourth quarters of the year. However, by September 2009 the Bank of England had bought up about £165 billion of assets as part of its quantitative easing programme. This helped add liquidity to the market, but was arguably artificially distorting the economic situation.

Despite the Bank's best efforts, average weekly earnings fell through the floor in early 2009, which meant that businesses had to fight harder for their revenues. A major problem for smaller companies was that credit was not easily available to help them get past lean periods.

The reduction of the Bank of England base rate to a historic low of 0.5 per cent in March was one of the year's biggest stories - great for borrowers on variable rates but what about the money-makers? It wasn't great news for savers and pensioners either.

The coalition government: a new hope...

The optimism created by another three quarters of sub-one per cent economic growth in 2010 soon turned to worry about a double-dip recession, when the final quarter saw a -0.4 per cent contraction. Meanwhile, the government continued to pump money into the country via quantitative easing.

From May, Great Britain had a new leader in the shape of David Cameron and his Conservative party - operating in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The austerity measures imposed to reduce the national budget deficit stood in the way of real growth, though, despite some marquee spending initiatives.

It was also in 2010 that a drop in real households' disposable income occurred - the first time since 1981. It was not an easy time to sell products and services to the public, yet there were success stories in among the struggles.

The Big Society...

In terms of GDP, 2011 was similar to 2010, but the three quarters of growth were less pronounced, while the final quarter of contraction mirrored the -0.4 per cent from the previous year. Consumer confidence had begun to return, but the increased prices caused by inflation combined with real reductions in household income meant it was still a difficult trading landscape.

Cutbacks in the public sector meant the private sector had to pick up the slack in terms of employment and services; this did not happen, but increased focus on social innovation and the Conservative's Big Society sought to look after vulnerable members of society.

London 2012 Economic Games...

By the first quarter of 2012 the UK was officially back in recession and the government's first two years of office had not produced the desired growth. The quantitative easing programme had reached £375 billion by July and unemployment was still running high; however, some commentators observed that a kind of plateau had been reached with regards to the jobs market.

While the country had not produced a real upturn in economic growth, the situation appears to be stabilising and efforts by the government to release credit - both to consumers and businesses - alongside the inspirational success of the London 2012 Olympic Games produced renewed optimism throughout Britain... something which may continue to build in months to come.

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