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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2007, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
The business of Tony Blair's decade
By Gavin Stamp
Business reporter, BBC News

The door of Number 10 Downing Street being polished
A lot of people are better off for Tony Blair's 10 years in power
As Tony Blair announces his resignation, his economic legacy over the past decade has inevitably come under scrutiny.

Mr Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown frequently remind people that the UK has enjoyed its longest period of uninterrupted growth in recorded history during their watch.

But how significantly has the business and economic landscape changed over the past 10 years and who have been the winners and losers of the Blair era?

1) Stock markets

Stock market investors have experienced many highs and lows over the past decade but the overall picture looks, at face value, pretty healthy.

When Labour was elected on 2 May 1997, the FTSE 100 index of the UK's leading shares stood at 4,455.6.

Ten years later, it has risen to 6,549.6.

Interest rates: 6.25%
CPI inflation: 1.6%
Unemployment: 2.04 million
Average house price: 68,085

Not all investors have prospered as markets have oscillated wildly during the period.

They fell sharply in 2000 and 2001, after the collapse of the dot.com boom and the 11 September 2001 attacks, but have been on a steady upward curve since then.

The UK's largest companies have also fared well, in terms of their stock market value.

In May 1997, Glaxo SmithKline was the UK's largest listed company - in terms of market valuation - worth 42bn.

Interest rates: 5.5%
CPI inflation: 3.1%
Unemployment: 1.69 million
Average house price: 196,745

It has been supplanted by others since then, notably BP. The oil firm is now worth 109bn.

The combined market worth of the top 100 companies is now 1.6 trillion, compared with 763bn in 1997.

2) Interest rates

The Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee has met 120 times since Gordon Brown gave it authority over interest rates.

Ironically, the MPC raised rates in its very first post-independence meeting in 1997 and put them up again to 5.5% on Thursday at the end of Mr Blair's term.

Rates stood at 6.25% when the Blair government was elected, peaking at 7.5% in June 1998.

3) Employment

Tony Blair made getting more people into work one of his key priorities and has heralded his record on employment as one of his greatest achievements.

Ten years ago, there were 26.5 million adults in work and just over two million people unemployed.

Since then, total employment has risen to 28.9 million, while the jobless figures have fallen to 1.69 million.

The minimum wage, introduced in 1997, did not cost jobs as some had predicted.

Britons are also better paid than they were 10 years ago.

Average weekly pay for full-time workers was 320.50 then and is 447.10 now.

4) House prices

Soaring house prices have been one of the defining features of the Blair years.

Terraced houses in Liverpool
Soaring house prices have defined the Blair years

The odd pause for breadth notwithstanding, there has been a 10-year boom in the market, rewarding many and making life incredibly difficult for others.

According to Halifax, the average price of a house was 68,085 in May 1997.

By April 2007, this had risen to 196,745.

5) Inflation

Previous Labour governments have been destroyed by their inability to control inflation.

Inflation is higher now than it was 10 years ago but remains, historically speaking, low.

Retail price inflation, used for public sector pay settlements, currently stands at 4.8%, compared with 2.6% in May 1997.

Annual consumer price inflation, the government's preferred measure since 2003, is now 3.1% - well above the Treasury's target. In 1997, it stood at 1.6%.

6) Taxation

Opposition parties and business groups commonly attack the government these days for increasing the burden of taxation.

The Treasury's own figures show total taxes and national insurance contributions as a share of GDP rose from 35.9% to an estimated 37.2% in 2006-7.

Lakshmi Mittal, chairman of Arcelor Mittal
Tycoons like Lakshmi Mittal are enjoying unprecedented wealth

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) says it believes government tax measures account for about two-thirds of this increase.

Taking into account tax credits and other government financial assistance, the IFS estimates that the average person is paying out more tax than in 1997, but only marginally so.

On the other hand, many members of company pensions believe they are far worse off than in 1997 due to the government's abolition of tax relief.

Despite sustained efforts to reform the state pension system, the government has found pension provision becoming an albatross around its neck.

7) Trade

The UK's total economic output is now far higher than it was in 1997.

But the last decade has seen an alarming drift into the red for the country's balance of payments.

The UK actually recorded a 1.7bn trade surplus in 1997 - something of an anomaly, given past and previous results.

Driven by cheap imports from Europe and Asia and declining exports in manufacturing sectors, the deficit has since spiralled. It rose to 55.8bn last year.

8) Wealth

The wealthiest Britons have become far wealthier in the past ten years, something which critics attribute to non-domicile tax concessions favouring the rich.

According to the recent Sunday Times Rich List, there are now 68 billionaires in the UK, compared with just a handful in 1997.

Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal is the UK's wealthiest man, worth an estimated 19.2bn.

9) Consumer spending

The last 10 years have been a period of conspicuous consumption, with personal debt levels soaring.

Among the main beneficiaries of the spending splurge have been supermarkets.

Tesco outlet
Tesco has grown by more than a third since 1997

Total spending on groceries has risen from about 90bn in 1997 to 124bn last year.

Tesco has been one of the companies most closely associated with the Blair era, growing dramatically during that time.

In 1997, it had 568 UK stores. Now it has nearly 1,780.

10) Air travel

Tony Blair's penchant for foreign holidays has been an apt footnote to the huge growth in cheap air travel under his premiership.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority, there were about 1.2 million flights in and out of the UK last year.

This is up from about 880,000 in 1997.

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