Great Britain is a leading power and financial centre and is the third largest economy in Europe after Germany and France. Over the past two decades successive governments have greatly reduced public ownership and contained the growth of social welfare programmes.
Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanised and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with less than 2% of the labour force. Britain has large coal, natural gas and oil reserves but its oil and gas reserves are declining and became a net importer of energy in 2005. Services, particularly banking, insurance and business services account by far for the largest proportion of GDP while industry continues to decline in importance.
After emerging from recession in 1992 Britain’s economy enjoyed the longest period of expansion on record, during which time growth outpaced most of Western Europe. In 2008 the global financial crisis hit the economy particularly hard due to the importance of its financial sector. Sharply declining house prices, high consumer debt and the global economic slowdown compounded Britain’s economic problems, pushing the economy into recession in the latter half of 2008 and prompting the government to implement a number of measures to stimulate the economy and stabilise the financial markets; these include public ownership of parts of the banking system, cutting taxes, suspending public sector borrowing rules and moving forward public spending on capital projects. In 2010, facing burgeoning public deficits and debt levels the current Coalition government initiated a five-year austerity programme which aims to lower the budget deficit from 11% of GDP in 2010 to nearly 1% by 2015.
The Bank of England periodically co-ordinates interest rate moves with the European Central Bank but Great Britain remains outside the European Economic and Monetary Union and has not adopted the euro currency.