The State of Britain


The NW economy ranked third, the region tops house price growth, and competition concerns on the West Coast mainline

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Ministers have called a halt to fracking following a report from the Oil and Gas Authority. The authority raised concerns about the ability to predict fracking-linked earthquakes.

Cuadrilla had already suspended work at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire after a series of tremors.

The effective moratorium will be maintained until new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity.

An assessment by the British Geological Survey in 2013 suggested there were enough resources in the Bowland resource across northern England to potentially provide up to 50 years of current gas demand.

On transport, West Coast Rail, a joint venture between FirstGroup and Italian firm Trenitali, will take over the running of the West Coast Mainline next month, replacing Virgin, which was barred from bidding.  FirstGroup also operates TransPennine Express which is Virgin’s only competitor on most of the northern part of the route.

The Competition and Markets Authority has raised concerns ticket prices could rise under the new franchise. The Authority said that on 21 routes, passengers would have little or no option but to choose a service run by FirstGroup. The Authority’s investigation into the new contract is ongoing.

TransPennine Express, has, however, unveiled a new £500m fleet of trains promising to increase capacity by 80% on routes in the North West. The investment over two years in the new Nova fleet will see 44 new trains run between Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

In September, a report by Transport for the North, found an increase in both late and cancelled services on TransPennine Express and Northern rail services compared with 2018. TPE blamed its worsening performance largely on weather events such as flooding and extreme heat.

Fewer than half of Northern rail services ran on time last month, the firm’s own figures have now shown. Only 45.4% of its trains arrived within a minute of their scheduled times between 11 October to 8 November.

Most commuters will put up with a short delay but cancellations for Northern are now at the highest level since late summer, with 5.2% of services abandoned, compared to 4.4% between July and August. Last month, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, mooted putting the company into public ownership if problems persist.

The Stats

Following its first publication of quarterly GDP estimates for the regions in September, the ONS has now published its next estimates for the North West, the other eight English regions, and Wales, for the year to March 2019. GDP figures have been available for the UK since the 1940s, for Scotland since 2002 and Northern Ireland since 2013.

The latest available figures showed the NW economy grew by 1.8%, up from 0.5% the previous quarter. This placed the NW sixth (previous ranking tenth) out of the twelve UK ‘regions.’

London topped the table with growth of 4.2% whilst at the bottom the Yorkshire and Humberside economy declined by 0.3%. Propelled by a drive to meet the original March 31st Brexit date, UK growth over the same period was 2.2%.

The ONS figures also highlighted that the quarter to March 2019 was far better for the region than the previous quarter. The North West economy grew by 1.0% in January to March 2019, following negative growth of 0.2% in October to December 2018.

In this period, the manufacturing industry grew by 6.7% and was the largest positive contributor to growth whereas education fell by 4.7%. Overall the services sector was the only drag on growth. The other three sectors, agriculture, production and construction, contributed positively.

Estimates published by ESCoE last month for the year ended September 2019, a more recent period than the ONS figures, ranked the NW third (previous ranking fourth)  with growth of 1.7%, which suggests the region has had a better summer relative to other parts of the UK.

Using this metric, UK growth was 1.45%. Growth in London (ranked first) was 2.32%, which compared with the South West of England (bottom) at 0.41%

More data from the ONS showed unemployment in the NW fell by 5,000 to 153,000 between July and September; the small decrease of 0.1% took the overall rate to 4.2%. Northern Ireland had the lowest rate at 2.5% with the UK rate at 3.8%. The highest rate was 5.9% which was recorded in the North East.

The South West had the highest employment rate at 81.0% which compared with 75.3% in the NW. UK employment was estimated at 76.0%.

In September, average earnings in the North West were up by £20 to £595 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £830. The lowest average earnings of £527 were recorded in Wales. In the UK overall, average earnings grew by 3.6% or by 1.8% after inflation.

NW average property prices fell by 0.3% to £167,683, which took annual growth to 2.8% which was the highest in Great Britain. In comparison, UK prices fell by 0.2% to £234,370 during September, an annual growth rate of 1.3%.

Significant NW house price growth, HS2 concerns and North Westerners feel less anxious

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Unemployment in the NW decreased by 2,000 to 148,000 between June and August, which left the overall rate at 4.1%.

The South West continued to record the lowest rate at 2.4% with the UK rate at 3.9%. The highest rate was 5.8% which was recorded in the North East.

The South West also had the highest employment rate at 81.0% which compared with 74.5% in the NW. UK employment was estimated at 75.9%.

NW average property prices increased by 1.3% to £168,221, which took annual growth to 3.1%, which was the second highest in England. In comparison, UK prices grew by 0.8% to £234,853 during August, an annual growth rate of 1.3%.

Analysis by the BBC has found workers living in seaside areas in Great Britain earn on average £1,600 less per year than those living inland. Since 2010 wages fell by c25% in real terms in Wirral West, the biggest drop in the UK.

Overall, in coastal constituencies median wages were £22,104 compared with £23,785 in non-coastal areas. Despite this, average pay in the Wirral is c£30,000, close to the UK average and higher than the regional norm.

The ONS’s Personal Well-being (or Happiness) Index has ranked the NW third out of the 12 UK ‘regions’, only Londoners and Geordies’ happiness improved more. Average anxiety has also improved most in the NW over the last six years.

Overall though, the Northern Irish were still the happiest in the UK with Londoners still the most miserable.


A National Audit Office (‘NAO’) report has highlighted that rolling out fracking in England has been slower than expected. In 2016, the government forecast that up to 20 wells would be fracked by mid-2020, but only three have been operational. Two of the functioning wells are in Lancashire.

The industry told the NAO that slow progress on fracking was partly due to the need to halt fracking activity if there is a tremor greater than 0.5 on the Richter scale. This compares with 4.0 in the US where the technology has revolutionised the US energy industry.

A key scientific assessment of recent industry data by the Oil and Gas Authority is highly anticipated. The UK has spent £32.7m supporting fracking since 2011.

Nothing highlights the need for regeneration more than a derelict theme park, and the deserted Frontierland in Morecambe is no exception. Plans to set up a £17m retail park, hotel and pub were approved in 2015 but now Lancaster City Council has asked developers their intentions after time to complete the project expired.

In Manchester, plans to create the first public park for more than 90 years have been submitted to the city council. Mayfield Park would be a 6.5 acre public space close to Piccadilly station and part of a £1.4bn plan to regenerate a run-down area south of Fairfield Street. Work is expected to start in 2020 and will take up to 15 years to complete.

If a derelict theme park signals a regeneration need, does a city obtaining its first Michelin star restaurant suggest ‘job done?’ Manchester now has its first Michelin star restaurant in more than 40 years. The French, in The Midland Hotel, had a star from 1974 until 1977, but now Mana, in Ancoats, has been awarded one.


The Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s Independent review into HS2 ‘HS2 North’ was introduced in Parliament this month by the Northern Powerhouse All Party Parliamentary Group.

The key recommendation of the report is the establishment of HS2 North, a private sector special purpose vehicle modelled on the Olympic Delivery Authority which would integrate HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

HS2 North would be arms-length from government, contracting with private sector delivery partners and Network Rail, and overseen by Transport for the North.

Whilst no one doubts that HS2 will bring significant benefits to the Northern economy, this report, and a second Northern Powerhouse Partnership report, ‘HS2 and the Economy of the North’, identifies that further detailed work needs to be undertaken to pin down the economic benefits that the new line would bring.

Separately, CBI East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, London, the North East and North West regional directors also urged the government to build the HS2 rail project in full.

However, a paper by the Adam Smith Institute, also released this month, claims that HS2 will deliver limited benefits and that some Northern cities could lose direct trains to London.

The instead recommends upgrading existing routes with new signalling, doubling the number of tracks, reopening mothballed lines, building new sections of railway and targeting bottlenecks at key junctions.

Also on the trains, the government is considering whether the management of Northern Rail should be taken into public hands. The Department for Transport confirmed it was developing contingency plans with either a new short-term management contract with Northern or the Operator of Last Resort (‘OLR’) (effectively the Government).

The OLR is currently in charge of London North East Railway, the East Coast Mainline intercity franchise. Northern is a large, more complex commuter network, so the government is likely to take-on a more supervisory role, with Northern still able to run day-to-day services and take the blame.

In a bad month for Northern, politicians demanded that passengers still having to use the 1980s-built rail-buses called Pacer trains, should be offered reduced fares. Northern had planned to withdraw them all by the end of this year but some will be retained into 2020 as a result of delays in the construction and delivery of new trains from manufacturer CAF.

The Pacers, a joint venture between British Rail and British Leyland, were originally constructed from the body of a bus and were intended to have a maximum lifespan of 20 years. In fairness though, the Pacer is a survivor, other British Leyland vehicles from the 1980s like the Austin Maxi and Morris Marina have long gone.


Plans to redevelop Santander’s Bootle base into a £75m complex have been approved. The Merseyside site will become the bank’s contact centre and UK operations hub from 2022, employing more than 2,500 staff.

The existing Bootle site, originally GiroBank’s HQ from 1968, will be demolished to make way for the environmentally sustainable complex which will accommodate sporting and social facilities.

In Blackpool, c100 staff at The Silver Line, a charity set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in 2013 to combat loneliness among the over-65s, have been safeguarded following a merger with Age UK.

The Silver Line receives over 10,000 calls a week, and its befriending services support 2,000 older people.

Deprivation in Oldham accelerates fastest in the UK but in Copeland it falls significantly, the latest ONS figures flag the North West’s mediocre economic performance

Reading Time: 4 minutesThe Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published its deprivation index which looks at an area’s levels of income, employment, education, health and crime as well as housing services and living environment. Jaywick in Essex, near Clacton-on-Sea, was previously found to be the most deprived in the last two reports in 2010 and 2015 and it has won this unwelcome accolade again. Jaywick is followed by eight areas of Blackpool then, despite the wealth passing through it, Anfield as the tenth most deprived part of England. The Ministry divides England up into 32,844 neighbourhoods averaging about 1,500 residents or 650 households each.

In terms of local authorities, at 49%, Liverpool had the second largest share of the most deprived areas, Knowsley was ranked third with 47%, on 43% Manchester was fifth, Blackpool, Burnley and Blackburn also made the top ten. In terms of performance since 2015, five areas of the North West have seen deprivation accelerate the fastest in the UK. Oldham topped the list and saw deprivation increase by c8%, with Rossendale, Blackburn,Halton and Burnley all making the top seven. In Copeland, deprivation fell by c6%, the tenth fastest fall in the UK, and was the regional star performer.

The MHCLG found concentrations of deprivation in a number of coastal towns, many of which are in the North West, and there was new money for the region in the latest tranche from the Coastal Communities Fund, with Whitehaven a winner. The North West was also awarded £18.7m as part of a £95m pot to revive historic high streets, with Blackpool, Maryport and Wigan some of the dozen or so NW towns that will benefit.

Delegates who attended the Convention of the North at the ‘Magnum Centre’ in Rotherham were first treated to Latin ice cream jokes before the PM outlined plans to give Northern Mayors and combined authorities more control over setting local train fares, timetables and budgets. He cited his experience as Mayor of London as evidence of how transport in London improved when devolved from central government. At county level, he also floated the idea that councils or community partnerships could take control of branch lines and their stations.

It is difficult to see how rail reforms could make services much worse, after a report by Transport for the North found Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE) services worse than they were a year ago when they were disrupted by timetabling chaos. More services were either late or cancelled in July and August than the previous year the report found, with the rail firms pointing to weather events such as flooding and extreme heat as mitigating factors. The percentage of TPE trains running on time dropped to 70.9% between 21 July and 17 August from 75.7% in the same period last year, with an average of 42 trains cancelled daily, representing 12.9% of services. At Northern, punctuality fell to 79.4% from 82.2%, with an average of 139 trains cancelled each day, representing 5.3% of services. The latest National Rail Passenger Survey of the 25 UK rail companies ranked Northern 23rd and TPE 18th. Last month, popular Virgin Trains, which was ranked second with a 91% satisfaction rating by passengers, lost its franchise to TPE’s parent.

Liverpool Combined Authority has unveiled a £172.5m wish list of transport improvements, plans include the first new Mersey ferries for 60 years. Two new vessels, new bridges and an updated landing stage at the Seacombe terminal are envisaged. Other projects being considered include, new Merseyrail stations at St James Gateway in Liverpool and Headbolt Lane in Kirkby; expansion of Lime Street ahead of HS2; station improvements at Birkenhead Central, Runcorn and Lea Green and a new 600km cycle route across the city region.

Liverpool City Council has sold half of its stake in Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Investment management company, Ancala Partners, has acquired 45% of the airport, 10% from the council and 35% from the Peel Group. Peel retains 45% of its stake and the council 10%. Financial details of the deal are not available but the council’s orderly exit suggests its intervention in 2016 has been successful. The airport is the UK’s 12th busiest serving c5m passengers last year.

A less successful £15m intervention by Carlisle City Council to revamp a rundown estate in the city which was eventually knocked down anyway is likely to cost more than £50m in total. The authority took out an interest-only loan in 1995 which now needs to be refinanced. The council has a revenue budget of c£11m a year. Also in the city, plans have been unveiled for a £15m upgrade of Carlisle railway station. This £15m is part of the £350m Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal rather than an interest only loan.

Total Polyfilm Ltd, which has sites in Bamber Bridge and Preston has ceased production. The firm produced polythene wrap for agriculture and industry but lost key customers after a fire in 2016. Seventeen jobs have been retained to assist the administrators with the winding-down of operations but over 200 staff have been made redundant.

The Stats
For the first time, the ONS has published quarterly GDP estimates for the North West, the other eight English regions, and Wales. GDP figures have been available for the UK since the 1940s, for Scotland since 2002 and Northern Ireland since 2013. The latest available figures, which are for the year ended 2018, showed the NW economy grew by 0.5%. This ranked the NW tenth out of the twelve UK ‘regions.’ The East Midlands topped the table with growth of 3.4% whilst at the bottom the South West economy declined by 1.1%. UK growth over the same period was 1.5%. More recent estimates (six months later) for the year ended June 2019, published by ESCoE last month, ranked the NW fourth with growth of 1.6%, which suggests the region has had a better 2019 so far relative to other parts of the UK.

The ONS figures also highlighted that the quarter to Dec 2018 was not good for the region, with the economy recording negative growth of 0.7%, the only part of the UK to decline. The real estate and construction industries grew by 0.5% and 0.8% and were the largest positive contributors to growth but manufacturing fell by 2.1% and was a major drag on the economy. Overall, the production and services sectors both contributed negatively to growth.

More data from the ONS showed unemployment in the NW increased by 23,000 to 156,000 between May and July, the increase of 0.6% was the highest in England and took the overall rate to 4.3%. The South West had the lowest rate at 2.4% with the UK rate at 3.8%. The highest rate was 5.0% which was recorded in the North East. The South West also had the highest employment rate at 80.8% which compared with 74.8% in the NW. UK employment was estimated at 76.1%.

NW average property prices increased by 1.0% to £166,022, which took annual growth to 2.3% which was the second highest in England. In comparison, UK prices grew by 0.5% to £232,710 during July, an annual growth rate of 0.7%.

Economic growth in the North West compares favourably with most regional economies and HS2 under review

Reading Time: 4 minutesGrowth in the North West was 1.6% in the year to June 2019 according to estimates from ESCoE. The robust uplift from the previous quarter’s growth of 1.0% made the North West the most improved region in the UK and ranked it fourth overall (out of twelve UK ‘regions’). At 2.3%, London had the best performance with Northern Ireland at 1% the worst. The national growth rate for the same period was 1.5%. With the UK economy contracting by 0.2% in the quarter, growth in the North West compares favourably with most regional economies which have shrunk.

Unemployment in the North West increased by 21,000 to 158,000 between April and June, an increase of 0.6% to 4.3%. This was the highest increase in unemployment in the country. The South West had the lowest rate at 2.7%, the North East had the highest at 5.3% with the UK rate at 3.9%. The South West also had the highest employment rate at 80.5% which compared with 74.7% in the North West. UK employment was estimated at 76.1%, the joint highest since comparative records began in 1971.

In June, average earnings in the North West were unchanged at £575 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £831. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.7% or by 1.8% after inflation.

North West average property prices increased during the month, the small 0.2% uplift to £164,116 took the annual growth rate to 2.4%. In comparison UK prices grew by 0.7% to £230,292 during June which left the annual growth rate unchanged at 0.9%.

It was a month of mixed messages from the Government on regional transport. In July, Boris Johnson used his first major policy speech at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum to promise a high speed rail link between the city and Leeds. High speed rail is expected to arrive in Manchester and the rest of northern England by 2033. But now the government has launched a review of the high-speed rail link (HS2) with a decision promised by the end of the year. With £7.4bn already spent, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has refused to rule out scrapping it entirely. Phase 1 of the development between London and Birmingham is due to open at the end of 2026. In July, the current chairman of the project warned that the total cost could rise by £30bn to £86bn, putting the projects value for money into question. There was also disagreement amongst northern leaders with Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, pushing an underground option at Manchester Piccadilly (which may cost £6bn) contrary to HS2’s preferred surface station (£570m). With the HS2 project in jeopardy, Northern Powerhouse Rail’s £39bn High Speed 3 (HS3) or Crossrail for the North network in the North of England looks in doubt.

There may be less shale gas in the Bowland geological formation that runs under Lancashire, Yorkshire, parts of the Midlands and into North Wales, than previously thought. The University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey (BGS) have developed a new method for analysing the gas content of shale, which queries a 1,300 trillion feet of gas estimate in a 2013, suggesting instead that there may only be 200 trillion feet; 5-7 years’ of gas at the current rate of consumption instead of 50 years. Experts at the BGS were cautious in their interpretation of the study, however, even though several of their own scientists were involved in the paper. Cuadrilla, also rejected the new paper and other academics suggested the only way to provide accurate estimates of how much gas is likely to be produced is to drill, hydraulically fracture and test many wells. During the month, fracking was stopped several times by The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) after a 2.9 magnitude earthquake was reported at Cuadrilla’s Lancashire site. Under current rules, drilling must be stopped for 18 hours if it triggers earth tremors above a 0.5 magnitude. This compares with America where a 4.0 Richter scale limit is allowed.

FirstGroup and Italian firm Trenitalia, are to take over the running of the West Coast Mainline (‘WCM’) train route, connecting London Euston to Glasgow Central, from December, replacing Virgin Trains, which was barred from bidding. The new contract will operate in two phases. The first will run from 8 December to March 2026, when First Trenitalia will operate the existing InterCity West Coast services. The second phase will run from March 2026 to March 2031, when it will operate the HS2 high-speed rail service. Given the HS2 project has been put under review, this may have to be changed even before First Trenitalia starts operating the trains. The firm said its £117m investment would mean 56 Pendolino trains refurbished, more reliable free Wi-Fi, better catering, and more than 260 extra services each week by 2022.

FirstGroup also operates the South Western Railway and TransPennine Express. TransPennine Express is Virgin’s only competitor on most of the northern part of the West Coast mainline. Virgin’s WCM partner, Stagecoach – which refused to take on pensions risk – has won the right to a judicial review of the decision to block it from bidding. Unlike other franchisees Virgin is consistently rated highly by North West travellers. In the latest National Rail Passenger Survey, of the 25 operators in the country, it was ranked second.

A report by an All-Party Parliamentary Group (‘APPG’) of MPs which looks at Post-Brexit Funding for the nations and regions has found that the UK would receive additional EU funding in the 2021-27 spending round. Three additional sub-regions, Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire and Tees Valley & Durham are likely to slip below the threshold of 75% EU average GDP per head that would qualify them for ‘less developed region’ status, but no part of the North West has yet fallen below this level.

Additionally, the EU has proposed that ‘transition region’ status should be extended to cover all regions with a GDP per head between 75-100 per cent of the EU average, compared to 75-90 per cent at present. Seven additional sub-regions are likely to slip below the threshold of 100% EU average GDP per head qualifying them for ‘transition region’ status. Greater Manchester would fall into this category, as well as East Anglia, East Wales, Leicestershire, Rutland & Northamptonshire, Outer London South, North Yorkshire and South Western Scotland. It is not clear how much extra funding these areas would have received from the EU, or but €50 per head over the next EU spending round would equate to £560m.

The UK government has promised to replace EU funding to the regions with a new UK Shared Prosperity Fund. If the new sub regions are added, the APPG calculates this amounts to c£1.8bn pa, on top of the c£2.2bn pa already committed as part of Local Growth Fund. Integrating the Local Growth Fund into the UK Shared Prosperity Fund could be problematic. The Local Growth Fund allocates funding to LEPs via competitive bidding whereas the allocation of EU funds uses a fixed formula. How the Shared Prosperity Fund will be allocated and mesh with other pots like the City Deals is yet to be determined.

North West house prices and unemployment increase the most in Britain, Lancashire has the worst performing Enterprise Zone and depopulation concerns along the West Cumbrian coast

Reading Time: 3 minutesUnemployment in the North West increased by 9,000 to 150,000 between February and April, the uplift of 0.3% to 4.1% was the biggest in the UK. At 2.6% the South West of England had the lowest rate and at 5.6% the North East had the highest rate in the country. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

North West average property prices increased by 0.8% to £164,261 during the month which uplifted the annual growth rate to 3.4% – the highest in Britain. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.1% to £229,431 during April which reduced the annual growth rate to 1.2%.

In its review this month of the 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) – the private sector-led partnerships between businesses and local public sector bodies that support local economic growth – the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons found that from 2015-16 to date; £9.1bn of taxpayers’ money has been awarded to LEPs through three tranches of Growth Deals. The north of England, with 11 LEPs, has received most of the funding at £3.4bn (38%), the East of England, with three LEPs, has received the least with £703m, and London, with one LEP, has received £435m.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government considers the population of an area as well as the strength of the LEP’s strategic economic plans and projects when deciding Growth Deal allocations. There are no overlapping LEPs in the North West which means that the regions LEPs will be able to bid for funds from the Government’s proposed Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace EU structural funding after Brexit. The Greater Manchester LEP has received £663m, the 2nd most in England, whereas Cumbria has received £60m, the lowest award in England. Other North West LEP’S awards have been Liverpool City £333m, Lancashire £321m and Cheshire and Warrington £201m. The Ministry does not to evaluate the Local Growth Fund which means it has no understanding of what impact spending through LEPs has on local economic growth. The latest growth figures for the North West from ESCoE showed the third lowest growth in the UK at 1.0%.

The 24 Enterprise Zones designated in England in 2011 to improve economic growth had created 17,307 jobs by 2017 instead of the forecast 54,000 jobs by 2015. BBC-commissioned research conducted by think tank charity Centre for Cities also found that in two areas the number of jobs had fallen. Enterprise zones offered cheaper business rates, superfast broadband and lower levels of planning control. According to the research only 145 jobs were created in the Manchester Airport City Enterprise Zone, with 2,347 jobs lost in the Lancashire Enterprise Zone which made it the worst performing zone in England. The cost of the scheme is disputed, with The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government claiming £101m, £215m less than the BBC’s estimate of £316m+. The Ministry also disputes the methodology used in the research.

Cumbria and Carlisle City and the three other cross-border councils and the Scottish and UK governments have signed the heads of terms for the Borderlands Growth Deal. The two governments have confirmed funding of up to £350m and agreed to uplift the deal with an extra £45m. Projects under consideration include a £10m feasibility study into extending the Borders Railway beyond Tweedbank to Carlisle., Carlisle Station Gateway, Chapelcross Energy Park near Annan, Berwick Theatre and Conference Centre and the Mountain Bike Innovation Centre in the Borders. Second phase projects might include a play village at Alnwick Garden, the Star of Caledonia landmark sculpture at Gretna and a dairy innovation centre in Dumfries and Galloway. The funds will be deployed over 10 years by the Scottish government and over 15 years by the UK government.

BBC analysis of ONS projections has found thirty seaside towns could see a fall in the number of residents under the age of 30 by the year 2039, with the biggest decline in the north of England. Copeland could see a fall of 14%, the largest decline in England, with Barrow and Allerdale second and fifth. Coastal authorities in the south such as Bristol could see a 15% rise in the number of children and young people. The Coastal Communities Fund has invested £218m in 354 projects across the UK since 2012 with the latest figures showing 27% or c£25m deployed in the South West and 10% or £9m in the North East. In the spring, the House of Lords Select Committee on regenerating seaside towns found that Brighton and Bournemouth have shown that coastal areas can successfully regenerate and that the Government should secure town deals for other deprived seaside areas like Blackpool.

Greater Manchester the second region to launch a local industrial strategy, the Northern Powerhouse five years on and the North-South divide likened to the Berlin Wall

Reading Time: 4 minutesUnemployment in the North West increased by 2,000 to 133,000 between February and April, an uplift of 0.1% to 3.7%. At 2.7% and 5.7% 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%.

North West average property prices increased by 0.6% to £161,981 during the month which uplifted the annual growth rate to 2.6%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.7% to £228,903 during April which held the annual growth rate at 1.4%.

Greater Manchester has become the second region to agree a local industrial strategy with the government. The 97 page document was designed by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership in collaboration with businesses and was signed off by Business Secretary, Greg Clark. The strategy is to become the UK’s first city-region to achieve carbon neutral living by 2038 as well as plans to enhance the city-region’s position in manufacturing of advanced materials such as graphene, health innovation, and digital and creative sectors.

As part of the plan, a new biomanufacturing hub has opened at Manchester University to further develop biotechnologies and clean growth. Based at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, the new Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub is underpinned by £10m in government investment and will develop new technologies in manufacturing processes of chemicals, using plants, algae, fungi, marine life and micro-organisms. The Institute will collaborate with Imperial College London, the University of Nottingham and the University College London. The Universities of Swansea and Sheffield will also host similar hubs, each also benefiting from £10m from HMG.

Other projects include upgraded facilities for advanced materials development, including £38m for the National Graphene Institute, £25m for the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre, and £235m of funding for the Sir Henry Royce Institute. There is also £23.8m in digital infrastructure investment which should lever in c£200m from the private sector. As part of the infrastructure plan, £312.5m was flagged through the Industrial Strategy’s Transforming Cities Fund for projects like the Metrolink.

Growth in the North West was 1.0% in the year to March 2019 with the UK growth rate for the same period at 1.5% and London’s growth rate at 2.7%.

Research by the think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research North, showed the North West lost most public sector jobs in the last decade with 133,000 less employees. This represented an 18% drop but the North East saw the biggest percentage cut at 24%. With northern regions of the UK more dependent on the public sector than other parts of the UK, the Government’s austerity programme has had more of an impact. The think tank also compared the Northern Powerhouse’s performance over its first five years with the UK average, citing successes in economic growth (10.7 % v 10.6%), productivity (11% less productive v 12%) and employment (6.9% v 6.2%.) However, weekly pay across the north has risen by £12 (2.4%), against a national average increase of £19 (3.5%) in real terms. Housing has remained more affordable than in the south of England. Overall the report provides some evidence that greater devolution is starting to work.

Echoing the North-South divide, during the month 33 newspapers across the north of England including the Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo and Lancashire Evening Post, jointly demanded the government accelerates devolution to help deliver economic growth. The campaign, labelled Power up the North, also targeted more funding for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Also, Northern Powerhouse minister, Jake Berry, had his brief expanded to include the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy this month. Commenting on the Greater Manchester local industrial strategy he said ‘Our refreshed Northern Powerhouse strategy will complement this approach and other Local Industrial Strategies across the north.’

On this theme, at the UK2070 symposium in Leeds, Lord Bob Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, likened the inequality of the North-South divide to Germany at the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago. The UK2070 Commission recommended in its report more effective devolution, more integrated national and sub national transport networks and a 25 year £250bn renewal fund.

The Treasury Committee has launched an inquiry into regional imbalances in the UK economy. The Committee will examine regional imbalances in economic growth and what regional data is available in the UK, how it could be used more effectively in policy development, and whether there should be official regional economic forecasts produced.

On transport, control of Greater Manchester’s bus network could be taken back into public control. In the UK, only in Northern Ireland are bus services state-owned but in London services are more regulated than in the North West. Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), like Transport for London, would be given powers to set routes, ticketing, timetables and quality standards. Private bus companies would compete for contracts, given by TfGM, to operate services on specified routes on a franchise basis. TfGM would receive the revenue from tickets and subsidise less busy but necessary routes.

On the trains, a survey by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) found companies believed a Crossrail of the North or HS3 would boost productivity and investment. The East/West project running from Hull to Liverpool with a spur from Leeds up to Newcastle would cost £39bn.

On interventions, Tata Chemicals Europe has been given a £4.2m government grant towards a £16.7m project to build the UK’s first major carbon capture plant. The Northwich facility will recycle 40,000 tonnes of waste carbon dioxide when it begins operating in 2021.

A new economic partnership between Barrow, South Lakeland and Lancaster Councils targeting growth around Morecambe Bay has been launched. It is not clear how the new partnership will work with the Cumbria and Lancashire LEPs.

The North West performs poorly in terms of growth, the next stage in Sellafield’s 100 year decommissioning programme and will the benefits of HS2 fail to reach the region

Reading Time: 4 minutesGrowth in the North West fell by a third to 1.0% in the year to March 2019; the drop of 0.5% was the worst in 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 respectively. The East of England was the most improved region of the UK with growth accelerating from 0.9% to 1.9%. The UK growth rate for the same period was 1.5%.

Unemployment in the North West fell by 7,000 to 136,000 between January and March, a drop of 0.2% to 3.8%. At 2.4% and 5.4% the SW of England and the North East had the lowest and highest unemployment rates in the country respectively. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

In March, average earnings in the North West increased to £575 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £762 whereas Northern Ireland had the lowest of £513. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.3% or by 1.5% after inflation.

North West average property prices fell by 1.7% to £159,471 during the month which trimmed the annual growth rate to 2.5%. 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 the North West, at £20.8bn, had the largest deficit in the UK. This compares with London which had the highest surplus of £34.3bn. On a per person basis the NW’s deficit was £2,884 whereas London had the highest surplus of £3,905 per person and Northern Ireland had the biggest deficit per person 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 respectively.

In Cumbria, there was relief in Workington when it was confirmed that British Steel subsidiary TSP Engineering – which employs about 220 people – was largely unaffected by the collapse of its parent. Further along Britain’s energy coast, the next phase in nuclear reprocessing plant Sellafield’s 100 year decommissioning programme was announced with the award of a £770m contract to Aberdeen-based engineering services firm Wood Group. The Group will act as design and engineering partner for the Cumbria site over the next 20 years. Sellafield is the largest nuclear complex in Western Europe, covering two square miles with more than 1,000 buildings. The site includes the world’s first commercial nuclear power station, Calder Hall, which closed in 2003 after 47 years of generating electricity. Security guards, cleaning and catering staff at the site have announced a third set of strike dates in a dispute over pay. About 180 workers employed by outsourcing firm Mitie are already taking part in 10 days of action.

On infrastructure, Highways England is likely to go ahead and build a £250m dual carriageway through Rimrose Valley in Litherland, Merseyside, to ease congestion to the Port of Liverpool. The local council lost a judicial review of the project which is supported by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. In Cumbria, there were public consultations on plans for a £102m southern link road for Carlisle and the £1bn project to turn the remaining 18 miles of the A66 between Penrith and Scotch Corner into a dual carriageway.

Apart from Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport being named as second best in the UK for flights taking off on time – an average of 10 minutes late in 2018 – regional transport was dominated by the railways. First, the Mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region called for the government to take control of rail operator Northern, accusing the firm of failing to deliver promised improvements and cramming commuters onto smaller, delayed trains. Also West Coast main line operator Stagecoach, which owns the majority of the generally well regarded Virgin trains operation, is suing the Government over its disqualification from running services on the route from 2020. The government disallowed the bid in a row over who shoulders the liability for expensive defined benefit pensions, many of which are a legacy from the British Rail era.

A report from the influential House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has said HS2 risks focusing too heavily on the south of England. Former Scottish Secretary, Lord Forsyth, Chairman of the Committee, said the north is being short-changed by the Government’s present plans, especially as construction on HS2 is starting in the south. He called for the plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail to be integrated with the plans for the northern section of HS2, and funding for the project to be ring fenced. A concern for the Committee was costs overrunning on the first phase of the project potentially resulting in insufficient funding for the rest of the new railway in the north. The committee, which includes former chancellors Lord Darling and Lord Lamont, also criticised the Government for not investigating potential cost savings by reducing train speeds or terminating the line at Old Oak Common rather than Euston. In response, the Department for Transport claimed that HS2 will deliver additional rail capacity, significantly improve connections and provide opportunities for economic growth – with around £92bn in benefits – for people and businesses across the North.

Cumbria in the EU spotlight, Blackpool slated as a potential coastal towns pioneer and the North West ponders fracking

Reading Time: 4 minutesUnemployment in the North West fell by 4,000 to 141,000 between December and February; a drop of 0.1% to 3.9%. The SW of England had the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.6% and the North East had the highest at 5.6%. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.9%. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.5% or by 1.6% after inflation.

Cumbria was in the spotlight across Europe this month. In its assessment of regional unemployment rates across the EU regions in 2018, Eurostat – part of the European Commission that provides EU statistics to the EU institutions – stated the lowest rates recorded were two Czech regions, Prague (1.3%) and South-West (1.5%), then Mittelfranken (1.8%) in Germany, followed by Cumbria (1.9%).

North West average property prices increased by 1.3% to £163,758 during the month which increased the annual growth rate to 4.0% – the highest in England. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.8% to £226,234 during April which cut the annual growth rate to 0.6%.

The trade off between the UK’s anaemic productivity growth and record levels of employment was highlighted in Barrow this month. Kimberly-Clark’s proposed investment of £95.4m across its sites at Barrow and Kent will improve productivity but the efficiencies are expected to lead to the loss of 110-130 jobs in Kent and c20 at Barrow. The sites produce Kimberly-Clark’s Andrex and WypAll products; around 380 are employed at the Barrow mill.

Jaguar Land Rover shut down production for a week – blaming Brexit – impacting Halewood. The shutdown added to a scheduled closure for Easter. Better news for Merseyside was the completion of a new £10m freight ferry – built by Cammell Laird over nine months – which is now on its way to Southampton to join Red Funnel’s fleet.

On retail, Sports Direct is to close its warehouse in Wigan on 13 June. The 300 employees will be offered alternative work 80 miles away in Shirebrook, Derbyshire. Debenhams stores in Altrincham and Southport are among 22 stores earmarked for closure across the country.

There was a potential boost for regional rail when the UK government announced – as part of the Borderlands Growth Deal – funding for a feasibility study into extending the Borders Railway on to Carlisle. New North Wales and Liverpool rail services will also start in May. The services are being introduced after an upgrade of the 1.5 mile Halton Curve in Cheshire which has been virtually closed to passengers since the 1970s.

Virgin Trains’ proposal to end standing on long-distance journeys by managing rail services like flights received a mixed response. Unlike other franchises Virgin is consistently rated highly by North West travellers and is one of the few rail firms likely to be able to deliver innovative solutions like this. According to a report by The Rail Delivery Group, Transport for the North and other local groups across the region should take responsibility for regional train contracts. Transport for London has had some success with this model in the capital.

One rail decision regulators did get right 30 years ago was saving the 73-mile-long Settle-Carlisle line from closure. Transport Secretary at the time Paul Channon, told the House of Commons he was declining British Rail’s proposal to close the route, stating that the line now covered its operating costs after a public campaign which saw usage surge.

On infrastructure, reduced tolls through the Mersey tunnels for Liverpool City Region residents will initially cost Liverpool City Region Combined Authority £1m pa. It is expected 57,000 motorists a day will benefit; if usage and economic activity increases then a case can be made for additional funding to abolish the tolls. The Isle of Man government has been granted planning permission for a new £31.3m ferry terminal at Princes Half Tide Dock at Liverpool’s Pier Head. The terminal is due to open in late 2020 provided that the Tynwald approves funding for the project.

A number of regional water related infrastructure projects took a step forward this month, The first stage of a £25m flood defence scheme for Carlisle was approved; £6m will be invested raising the flood defences off Warwick Road. A £9.7m flood defence scheme for Egremont will create three new flood storage areas which will be able to contain enough flood water to fill 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The Environment Agency hopes it will reduce the flood risk to once every century rather than once every five years. United Utilities’ new water main from Thirlmere to West Cumbria has proved a boon for state owned Port of Workington which has handled the pipes for the project; also United Utilities’ £80m plan to improve the Haweswater aqueduct – which delivers water from Cumbria to Manchester and the Pennines – has been welcomed.

A House of Lords’ report ‘The future of seaside towns’ suggests Blackpool could be a pioneer in solving problems in England’s deprived coastal communities. The Committee recognised Blackpool had been successful in attracting tourists, with a revamped seafront, investment in its trams, a newly electrified direct rail link to London and investment in hotels; but a focus on this one sector may have hindered regeneration. Grimsby has received £67m to improve its dock area and to create thousands of homes which the report viewed as a more balanced approach to regeneration.

Regional prosperity would be enhanced by a relaxation of the UK’s rules on fracking which – according to the UK’s shale gas tsar who resigned after six months – was being throttled by rules preventing mini earthquakes. Under current rules, drilling must be stopped for 18 hours if it triggers earth tremors above a 0.5 magnitude. This compares with America where a 4.0 Richter scale limit is allowed and where, according to energy firm Ineos, c1m shale gas wells have been drilled safely. Ineos has exploration rights in Cheshire and believes the UK could emulate the shale gas boom in the US – most of the UK’s shale gas reserves lie under the north of England.

The North West leads the fall in UK unemployment, sees the establishment of the first deep coal mine for decades move a step closer, and at last the bollards begin to disappear on the M6 between Crewe and Knutsford.

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Unemployment in the North West fell sharply by 19,000 to 131,000 between November and January; the drop of 0.5% to 3.6% was the best in the UK. At 2.9% and 5.2% the SW of England and Yorkshire and the Humber had the lowest and highest unemployment rate in the country respectively. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.9%.

In March average earnings in the North West increased to £564 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £846 whereas the North East had the lowest of £523. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.4% or by 1.5% after inflation.

North West average property prices fell by 1.3% to £160,811 during the month which trimmed the annual growth rate to 3.4%. In comparison UK prices dropped by 0.8% to £228,147 during March which cut the annual growth rate to 1.7%. The North West market was also slower with the latest figures to September 2018 showing volumes down by 2.7%.

The extent to which the North West’s economy was impacted by March’s weather – with severe gales and heavy rain brought by Storm Gareth – remains to be seen. The storm caused flooded train lines, flooded roads and disruption to ferry services from Heysham.

Despite the weather some regional bright spots included the potential first deep coal mine in the UK for decades after councillors backed the plans of The West Cumbria Mining Company. The firm wants to extract coking coal from the seabed off St Bees, with a processing plant on the former Marchon site at Kells – the new Woodhouse Colliery could create 500 jobs. The coking coal – potentially up to 750m tonnes in a 75 sq mile area around the colliery – is needed to produce steel. The futuristic looking mine would replace the Haig Pit in Whitehaven which was shut in 1986 with the loss of 3,500 jobs. More immediate regional job creation will come with roles in on board crew and ticket office staff as one hundred seasonal vacancies are created at Windermere Lake Cruises. Essar Oil’s plans to decommission the Shell Higher Olefins Plant in Ellesmere Port has threatened the jobs of 184 workers at the Stanlow site – staff are to be balloted on whether they wish to take industrial action.

One of the region’s most high profile infrastructure projects is nearing completion. The £265m project to upgrade the M6 to a smart motorway between Crewe and Knutsford, has seen a fourth lane been built in each direction with new signage, traffic sensors and CCTV cameras to help tackle congestion for the 120,000 drivers who use it each day. According to Highways England it is the biggest upgrade to the M6 since it opened in Cheshire about 60 years ago. But drivers should not expect to wave goodbye to the bollards anytime soon as the upgrade on the 19-mile stretch is only the first of four smart motorway schemes to be finished. The Agency aims to increase the M6’s capacity by a third on 60 miles of motorway between Coventry and Wigan. On a smaller scale, the administration of construction company Dawnus halted work on the £15m Manchester-Salford Inner Relief Route improvement scheme, forcing Manchester and Salford City Councils to put in place contingency plans.

Notable regional transport developments included the Stobart Group’s laudable but tortuous attempt to offer scheduled passenger flights from Carlisle (now Carlisle Lake District) Airport for the first time in more than 25 years. Loganair will operate routes to Dublin, Belfast and London Southend from 4 July. The airport received a £4.75m public subsidy via Cumbria’s LEP to upgrade its terminal and runway in 2017 but had difficulty recruiting air traffic control staff and was unable to launch services in June 2018. On the railways, Northern’s plans to bring in 10 services a day between Barrow and Manchester airport have been delayed. The firm will instead run six services until late spring. Extra hourly services linking Manchester to Northwich, Knutsford and Mobberley which were due to begin in May 2018 have also been postponed. A £4m project to try to reduce the risk of landslides which closed the Cumbria Coast railway line last November is underway – 50,000 tonnes of earth are being shifted. The campaign to reopen Fleetwood’s station suffered a setback this month as a feasibility study into the issue was rejected by Wyre Council and £50,000 of funding for the study from Lancashire County Council was also refused.

Key developments in the North West met with varying degrees of success this month with plans for a £100m upgrade of Chester Racecourse being rejected after councillors decided the project could harm views of the historic city. The scheme included a new six-storey grandstand, a 1,000-seat conference venue and multi-storey car park. Regional wins out of the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund include £2.35m towards a £5.55m project to create visitor attractions along Morecambe Bay. Given the ‘publicity’ Morecambe has received following ITV’s drama The Bay, the award will be welcomed warmly. Other successful projects were £3.64m for The Beacon Arts Village to modernise a disused Victorian town hall in Hoylake and £772,000 awarded for a £1.22m scheme to link the economies of Cleveleys and Fleetwood. One of the North West’s flagship tourist developments got a further £1.75m to add to the £4m pledged by the Government last year; Blackpool Museum – set to open in 2020 – will be located on the Golden Mile in the former Sands Venue and will showcase the resort’s history. It is hoped 300,000 visitors a year will be pulled in.

Economic development and regeneration in Cumbria will continue to be overseen by the district councils, county council, Cumbria LEP and the Northern Powerhouse after plans to create a unitary authority which would merge Allerdale, Carlisle, Copeland, Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland district councils with the Cumbria County Council were scrapped. Unanimity amongst the seven councils could not be found so efforts are now focusing on a combined authority such as Greater Manchester or Liverpool Region which would mean the end of Cumbria County Council and the devolution of its services to the districts.