The State of Britain

A surge in Welsh property prices but Wales has the lowest disposable household income in the UK, and a series of setbacks for the Welsh economy

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Unemployment in Wales increased by 1,000 to 69,000 between February and April, an uplift of 0.1% to 4.4%. The South West had the lowest rate in the UK at 2.7%; at 5.7% the North East had the highest. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

Welsh average property prices increased by 2.4% to £163,902 during the month which meant annually prices surged by 6.7%, the highest growth rate in the UK. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.7% to £228,903 during April which held the annual growth rate at 1.4%.

According to the latest figures from the ONS, Wales had the lowest disposable household income in the UK between 2016 and 2017. The UK average is £19,514 per household with only England higher than this at £19,988; Scots had £18,099 of income whilst the Northern Irish narrowly beat the Welsh with £15,813 versus £15,754. Nottingham had the UK’s lowest gross disposable household income (wages or benefits) of £12,445 with London borough Kensington and Chelsea recording household income over £60,000 and a growth rate of 4.9% from the previous year. With inflation over the period at 2.6% the growth in Welsh incomes of 1.0% suggests a decrease in disposable income in real terms.

Ford’s engine plant in Bridgend will close in the autumn of 2020 with the loss of 1,700 jobs. With a £45,000 average salary the Welsh Government estimates the factory added £3.3bn of value to the Welsh economy over 10 years. Ford has received £140m of public money since 1978 of which the latest tranche of £11m will be paid back. With the motor industry pivoting towards electric cars, investment in a new petrol engine, called Dragon, was scaled back at the factory, while production of an engine for Jaguar Land Rover is due to end this year. Factory shutdowns designed to cope with disruption from a 29 March Brexit, cut UK car production in April by almost a half. Brexit was delayed but the factories still closed and production fell 44.5% according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

There has been no decision yet by Ineos Automotive on whether to build its new 4×4 in Bridgend. The internationally mobile project has meant the company has been deciding between the Ford site and another in Portugal for months. Ineos Automotive plans to build a vehicle inspired by the Land Rover Defender, which went out of production in 2016. No doubt the Welsh Government is closely examining the EU state aid limit for the town.

More bad news came when the University of Wales Trinity Saint David confirmed it is facing financial uncertainty and that it was looking at 110 possible job cuts as part of a restructuring. The university has already saved £6m and has received 94 applications for voluntary redundancy and made 16 compulsory redundancies. The University is based across three locations in west Wales – Lampeter, Carmarthen and Swansea – and employs 1,500 people teaching c10,000 students. The university is behind the Yr Egin complex in Carmarthen, the first phase of which houses S4C’s headquarters. It also has a campus in London and a learning centre in Birmingham which opened in March 2018.

In Newport, almost 300 workers lost their jobs after Quinn Radiators went into administration. Administrator, Grant Thornton, made 280 staff redundant immediately.The factory had two production lines with capacity to produce 3.5m domestic radiators a year. In 2016, the Welsh Government gave the company a £3m loan aimed at creating 120 jobs and safeguarding a further 290.

In Cardiff, up to 180 jobs are at risk after Allied Bakeries – producers of Kingsmill bread – announced plans to halt production at its site. The facility in the Heath area of the city would instead be used as a distribution depot for Wales and south-west England.
The firm will now enter consultations with the 360 staff at the Maes-y-Coed Road site. Bread sales are in decline in the UK and earlier this year the firm lost a contract for a major store own-brand label bread.

Also, in St Asaph, Denbighshire, Honeywell, which manufactures plastic conduits and switches under the brand MK, told 129 staff the factory will close. Production will be redeployed to some of the USA-based company’s other sites in the UK and abroad. Job opportunities for staff would be in south east England or Hungary.

Then in Port Talbot, construction company Jistcourt has gone into administration putting about 50 jobs at risk. The company, founded in 1980, specialised in housing association and local authority developments. More positively, rechargeable battery manufacturer OXIS Energy will establish a plant in the town. The factory will produce components for batteries to power buses and trucks and will export to another plant in Brazil. The firm has received £3.2m of support from state owned Development Bank of Wales and hopes to have created 50 jobs in Port Talbot by the end of 2020.

Aston Martin has started making cars at its south Wales factory. The first pre-production models of the Aston Martin DBX have been rolled out at its St Athan site, with the factory expected to go into full production in 2020. The company has created 200 jobs and plans to recruit up to 550 more people, some of whom maybe from Ford’s Bridgend plant. The 90 acre former MOD site was announced as the second UK plant for the Aston Martin Lagonda in early 2016. The company was given a total of £18.8m in grants from the Welsh Government.