The State of Britain

A sharp uplift in regional growth, Colmans retains its historic links with Norfolk and cost effective beavers threaten to usurp the Environment Agency

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Growth in the East of England increased by a startling 1.0% to 1.9% in the year to March 2019, the most improved region of the UK according to estimates from ESCoE. At 2.7% and 0.7%, London and Northern Ireland had the highest and lowest growth rates in the country. The UK growth rate for the same period was 1.5%.

Unemployment in the East of England increased slightly by 4,000 to 94,000 between January and March, the uplift of 0.1% to 2.9% sill meant the region had the second lowest rate in Great Britain. At 2.4% and 5.4% the SW of England and the North East had the lowest and highest unemployment rates in the country. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

In March, average earnings in the East of England increased to £674 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £762 whereas the Northern Ireland had the lowest of £513. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.3% or by 1.5% after inflation.

East of England average property prices fell by 1.1% to £286,611 during the month which meant annually prices were flat. In comparison UK prices dropped by 0.2% to £226,798 during March which cut the annual growth rate to 1.4% although transactions were up by 1.4%.

In its estimate of regional public spending and regional tax revenues in 2018, the ONS has concluded that the East of England had a surplus of £5.9bn. This compares with London which had the highest surplus of £34.3bn. On a per person basis the East of England surplus was £966, whereas London had the highest surplus of £3,905 per person and Northern Ireland had the biggest deficit at £4,939. The only areas of the UK to run surpluses were London, the South East of England and the East of England. At a national level, the UK had a deficit of £636 per person which splits into deficits of £106, £2,452, £4,395 and £4,939 for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Positive news for Norfolk, as sports car manufacturer Lotus Cars, based at Hethel, announced 200 new jobs as part of its expansion programme aimed at growing its brand. Lotus launched its new electric sports car, the Type 130, last month. It will be assembled at the Norfolk plant with some sub-assemblies completed by partners.

Also in Norfolk, work has begun on a new milling plant at Honingham, near Norwich, to keep part of Colman’s mustard production in the county after the iconic Carrow Works site in Norwich closes after 160 years. At the site’s ground-breaking ceremony, Colman’s parent Unilever, also confirmed a 10-year deal with Condimentum, a consortium set up by the English Mustard Growers’ and Norfolk Mint Growers’ co-operatives. The new factory will grind mustard seeds into flour and process locally-grown fresh mint for Colman’s before the ingredients are sent to Burton-upon-Trent. The factory is the first building constructed on Honingham’s Food Enterprise Park. Unilever will switch its production from Norwich to Staffordshire and sites in Germany when the Carrow Works – which employs about 100 staff – closes. The new factory at Honingham will create c25 jobs.

The region’s unemployment rate is low, but there were a number of concerning job announcements this month. Supermarket group East of England Co-op will fully integrate into the national group’s supply chain resulting in the closure of its Ipswich facility. The closure comes as part of a redevelopment plan to demolish the former adjacent Dairy Crest plant and build a gym and retail units. As part of the proposal the distribution centre would also be converted into three units, including one for leisure. Ipswich Borough Council has deferred its decision. The 155 at risk employees are being offered the opportunity to transfer to a new Co-op Group location in Essex. Also in Suffolk, plans by Bosch to relocate manufacturing from its Stowmarket site to Hungary will mean job losses. The power tool maker currently employs 250 people at the garden tools plant of which 140 are at risk in manufacturing with the balance in R&D.

In Essex, poultry firm, 2 Sisters Food Group has said its Witham site is inefficient in comparison with some of its other facilities – two of which are in Norfolk – all 555 jobs are at risk. The company supplies chickens to most of the UK’s major supermarkets and also owns Fox’s Biscuits and Holland’s Pies.

Some key regional surveys this month. Research coordinated by regional accountancy firm MHA Larking Gowen, has found that the tourist industry in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex generates £8bn a year for the local economy. The survey found 49% of firms saw revenue levels increase but 31% suffered a decrease in profits, citing an increase in business rates as the main reason why earnings were depressed. Significantly respondents were split on whether local or central government should lead on promoting the industry which suggests the relevant agencies could improve on messaging. A report produced by public health body Healthy Suffolk predicts more than 62,000 new homes will be needed in Suffolk in the next 20 years. The State of Suffolk 2019 report assesses housing types, population figures, transport, employment, education, health and facilities across the county. Mid Suffolk is expected to see the most growth with a need for 11,460 homes.

On infrastructure, 2.5 miles of flood walls in Great Yarmouth will be updated as part of a £40m project which should provide protection from tidal flooding for more than 4,500 homes and businesses. The work will see 46 flood defence walls refurbished which should extend their lifespan by up to 30 years. Over £32m has come from central government with the rest from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, the Growth Deal programme and the Anglian Eastern Regional Flood & Coastal Committee. In Essex, a pair of beavers released into the wild do not require £40m of funding to construct flood defences. The Eurasian Beavers, which were bred in captivity, were introduced to an estate in Essex in March and have since built seven – so far effective – dams using sticks and mud. The mammals were hunted to extinction in England about 400 years ago. The Environment Agency has said it was a ‘pioneering approach.’