The State of Britain

A big drop in the Welsh jobless rate, a significant uplift in house prices and losses continue to mount up at Cardiff airport

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the ONS’s estimate of regional public spending and regional tax revenues in 2019, Wales had a deficit of £13.4bn, a smaller shortfall than the £14.2bn recorded in 2018. This compared with London, which had the highest surplus of £38.9bn.

On a per person basis, the Welsh deficit was £4,289, lower than the £4,552 recorded in 2018. London had the highest surplus of £4,369 per person whereas Northern Ireland had the biggest shortfall at £4,978.

The only areas of the UK to run surpluses were London, the SE of England and the East of England. The West Midlands and the North East were the two regions in the UK to increase their net fiscal deficits over the year; the other seven regions reduced their shortfalls.

At a national level, the UK had a deficit of £623 per person which splits into deficits of £68, £2,713, £4,289 and £4,978 for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively.

Public spending in Wales was £43bn or £13,698 per head, an increase on the 2018 figure of £42.4bn. London had the biggest spend of £123.9bn or £13,826 per head whereas Northern Ireland had the lowest at £27.9bn or £14,821 per head. Total government spending was £853bn or £12,835 per head.

Wales collected £29.5bn in taxes in 2019. London contributed the most to the Exchequer at £161.9bn, compared with the lowest contribution of £18.5bn which was from Northern Ireland. Overall the state raised £811.3bn or £12,213 per head in taxes, an uplift of £34.1bn or £461 per head compared with 2018.

More data from the ONS showed unemployment in Wales fell by 18,000 to 46,000 between September and November 2019; the whopping decrease of 1.2%, the biggest drop in the UK, took the overall rate to 3.0%. Northern Ireland had the lowest rate at 2.3% with the UK rate at 3.8%.

The South West had the highest employment rate at 79.8% which compared with 74.9% in Wales. UK employment was estimated at 76.3%.

Welsh average property prices increased by a huge 3.5% during November 2019, the uplift to £172,574, increased annual growth to make it a UK outlier of 7.8%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.4% to £235,298 an annual growth rate of 2.2%.

On transport, a Welsh Government spokesman has said state owned Cardiff Airport adds c£250m GVA to the Welsh economy and sustains around 2,400 aviation related jobs.

Last year a new tax payer loan was announced bringing the total amount of cash the airport can borrow from the Welsh Government to £59.4m. Most of the original loan of £38.2 has already been drawn down according to officials, which suggests the new £21.2m blurs the line between investment and working capital. 

Its latest accounts show the airport made a pre-tax loss of £18.5m in 2018/19 and barely recorded a positive EBITDA figure. Welsh ministers paid another £52m in 2013 to buy the airport.

At c£80m of public money already deployed to keep the airport operating, and with a further £21m now at risk, the economic case looks increasingly thin.

On jobs, a new buyer has not been found for Bangor based The Book People and administrators PwC say 155 people have been made redundant. The business was founded in 1998 and employed 393 people last month. The firm has offices in Bangor and Godalming, Surrey. PwC said 82 of the 142 staff at the Bangor office have lost their jobs.

Increased digitalisation has put 26 jobs at the Molson Coors call centre at risk. The brewer, which owns brands including Carling, Worthington, Sharp’s and Cobra, employs 132 people at Cardiff Gate Business Park.

And in Deeside, Flintshire, packaging firm Mondi has announced plans to close its factory in the second half of 2020; 167 staff are affected. The plant creates bags, pouches and laminates for the consumer industry.

Also Liberty Steel is cutting 72 staff in Newport, with a further 282 jobs going in south Yorkshire. The announcement follows Tata Steel’s plans to shut its Orb plant, near to Liberty Steel, in September 2020, putting up to 380 jobs at risk.

Last November, Tata announced plans to cut 3,000 jobs across Europe of which c1,000 could be in Wales. Tata Steel’s pre-tax losses were £371m last year, up from £222m in 2017-18.