The State of Britain

SE

South East oil projects go ahead and the Chiltern Hills the least deprived area of England

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The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government 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 nine areas of the North West as the most deprived in England, Sheerness is the first South East entry ranked 48th. The Ministry divides England up into 32,844 neighbourhoods averaging about 1,500 residents or 650 households each.

In terms of local authorities, 30% of Hastings was classified as deprived which ranked the town 17th worst in the UK. In Gravesham, deprivation fell by c6%, the eighth fastest fall in the UK, and was the regional star performer. The least deprived area of England is an area near Great Missenden in the Chiltern Hills, Buckinghamshire.

The MHCLG found concentrations of deprivation in a number of coastal towns, some of which are in the South East, and there was new money for the region in the latest tranche from the Coastal Communities Fund, with Dover a winner. The £2.4m project ‘Dover Soul’, will upgrade the town’s Market Square and Old Town with a view to increasing the number of visitors and re-establishing the area as a leisure destination.

Also Hastings, Margate and Newhaven are some of the SE towns invited to apply for regeneration funding as part of the £3.6bn Towns Fund which is targeted at 100 English towns. Towns must submit economic growth plans with a focus on improved transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture. The South East and London were also awarded £14.3m as part of a £95m pot to revive historic high streets, with Hastings again benefiting, along with Chatham and Ramsgate.

Development
Esso is to build a hydrogen generating plant, an automotive diesel oil production facility and diesel storage tank at Fawley, near Southampton, after New Forest District Council planning committee agreed its application. The £800m project will expand production, reduce diesel imports, create 1,000 construction jobs and safeguard the existing 2,000 jobs on site. The refinery, on Southampton Water, covers an area of more than 1,000 hectares and provides 20% of the UK’s refinery capacity.

Also in Southampton, plans for a £150m redevelopment of a derelict Toys R Us site have been outlined by the city council. The proposals include an office block, 275 flats, restaurants and shops at the Western Esplanade. A new promenade linking Southampton Central train station to the West Quay shopping centre is also planned. The first £75m phase will encompass a 70,000 sq ft office building as well as new restaurants, cafes, shops and a leisure attraction. More homes will be built as part of the second stage before a further development containing a hotel or office space could be constructed as part of the final phase. The council plans to borrow £27m to build the phase one office block.

Surrey County Council has approved a 25-year drilling plan from UK Oil and Gas Investments which aims to operate four oil wells at the Horse Hill site, about two miles from Gatwick Airport. The site covers about 2 hectares of former farmland near Horley. The company was also granted permission for a water re-injection well which aids oil recovery. The company had previously claimed to be able to meet 10- 30% of the UK’s oil demands from the project.

Jobs
Arjowiggins paper mill in Aberdeen has been sold, months after administrators said negotiations had ended without a sale, if the firm had folded then 82 jobs in Chartham and 27 jobs in Basingstoke were threatened. The deal has been supported with £7m of funding from Scottish Enterprise.

Transport
The saga over South Western Railway’s £45m upgrade of its 30-year-old Class 442 trains known as ‘plastic pigs’ continues. The Class 442s were originally due to be brought back into service in December 2018 after refurbishment in Bournemouth and Eastleigh. The delayed reintroduction was aborted in May due to a safety problem with the door locks. The first trains came into service in June but new motors to improve reliability have yet to be fitted. Now they are suspected of accidentally turning signals yellow or red as they pass through Earlsfield station in south west London; you couldn’t make it up.

The Stats
For the first time, the ONS has published quarterly GDP estimates for the South East of England, the eight other 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 South East economy grew by 2.8%. This ranked the region third 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%.

The quarter to Dec 2018 showed the education industry grew by 7.8% and made the largest positive contribution to growth but construction fell by 2.2% and public administration and defence fell by 1.6%. These made the largest negative contributions to growth in the region. Overall, the services sector was the main driver of GDP whereas production was flat. More recent estimates (six months later) for the year ended June 2019, published by ESCoE last month, ranked the South East seventh with growth of 1.4%, which suggests the region’s economy has weakened this year relative to other parts of the UK.

More data from the ONS showed unemployment in the South East decreased by 8,000 to 135,000 between May and July, the drop of 0.2% took the overall rate down to 2.8%, the second lowest rate in the UK. 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 79.8% in the South East. UK employment was estimated at 76.1%.

South East average property prices fell by 0.7% to £320,454, which meant annually prices had fallen by 2.0%. In comparison, UK prices grew by 0.5% to £232,710 during July, an annual growth rate of 0.7%.

Falling South East growth but unemployment remains very low, no change on the railways at Southeastern and around a dozen new roads recommended to connect up the Arc

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Growth in the South East was 1.4% in the year to June 2019, which ranked the region seventh (out of twelve UK ‘regions’) according to estimates from ESCoE. The drop from the previous quarter’s growth of 1.5% suggests the region’s economy is contracting. 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, falling growth in the South East reflects this and is similar to other regional economies which have also shrunk.

Unemployment in the South East decreased by 12,000 to 139,000 between April and June, a drop of 0.3% to 2.9%, the joint second lowest rate in the UK. The South West had the lowest unemployment 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 the South East at 79.6% and the UK rate of 76.1%, which is the joint highest since comparative records began in 1971.

In June, South East average earnings increased from £691 to £718 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £831; the North East had the lowest at £537. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.7% or by 1.8% after inflation.

The South East’s average property price increased during the month, the 1.1% rise to £291,370 reduced the annual price drop to 0.6%. In comparison, UK prices grew by 0.7% to £230,292 during June which left the annual growth rate unchanged at 0.9%.

On infrastructure, regional transport body, England’s Economic Heartland, has recommended that the Government invests in 11 road schemes from Swindon to Cambridge at a cost of more than £700m. The recommendations form part of the Oxford to Cambridge arc strategy – as outlined by the National Infrastructure Commission – which also includes the re-opening of the previously closed Oxford to Cambridge railway and building 1m new homes. Cost estimates of an Oxford-Cambridge expressway alone range between £3bn and £7bn.

On development, a £450m waterfront project has been ended by Southampton City Council after five years. The proposed Royal Pier Waterfront scheme would include a hotel and a casino on land reclaimed from the River Test in Southampton. The council gave no reason for the termination. A food market and 730 flats are also included, to be built on the site of the derelict Royal Pier and the reclaimed land. In Hove, Crest Nicholson has withdrawn from the 1.8 hectare King Alfred development. The project involved replacing the King Alfred Leisure Centre with modern sports facilities, and building new housing, including affordable homes. A total of £23m of public money – £15m from the Housing Infrastructure Fund and £8m from Brighton and Hove City Council – was approved to assist the developer in building a new sports centre and 565 homes.

On transport, the competition to operate the South Eastern franchise has been cancelled. The current incumbent, Southeastern, has been given a five-month extension to run the route between London, Kent and parts of East Sussex until April 2020. Go-Ahead runs Southeastern with Koelis through their joint venture Govia. A Department for Transport spokesperson said the decision to cancel the competition followed concerns that continuing the process would lead to additional costs to the taxpayer. The franchise was put out to tender in November 2017, and again last year before being cancelled by new Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps. FirstGroup and Italian firm Trenitalia were awarded the West Coast Mainline franchise this month.

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, none of which are in the SE, are likely to slip below the threshold of 75% EU average GDP per head that would qualify them for ‘less developed region’ status. Additionally, the EU has proposed that ‘transition region’ status should be extended to cover all regions with a GDP per head between 75 and 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. Again, none of these sub-regions are in the South East.

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.

The second lowest unemployment rate in the UK, two local industrial strategies rolled out and electric Minis in Cowley

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Unemployment in the South East of England decreased by 21,000 to 134,000 between March and May, the decrease of 0.4% to 2.8% meant that the region had the second lowest rate 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%.

The South East of England’s average property price increased by 0.9% to £323,745 during the month which uplifted the annual growth rate to 0.6%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.1% to £229,431 during May which reduced the annual growth rate to 1.2%.

Buckinghamshire has become one of the first regions to agree a local industrial strategy with the government. The 73 page document was developed by the Buckinghamshire LEP in collaboration with businesses and was signed off by Business Secretary, Greg Clark.

The strategy included; a long-term investment plan for Westcott Space Cluster to develop new research and development facilities, a new Screen Industries Global Growth Hub at Pinewood Studios to provide support to creative businesses, using Silverstone Park and technology cluster to stimulate high tech cross-overs, focusing on digital health, med-tech and advanced artificial intelligence.

Also Oxfordshire agreed its local industrial strategy with the government although at 99 pages it had a bigger document. Again the local LEP, Oxfordshire, collaborated with businesses and the strategy was signed off by Business Secretary, Greg Clark. With the aim of becoming one of the top three global innovation hubs by 2040, the plan outlines; supporting the existing science and technology parks with the potential creation of a new Global Business District as part of Oxford Station quarter, providing enhanced support for scale-ups especially from spin-outs from Oxford University, commercialisation of ‘breakthrough businesses’ IP, the development skills via an Oxfordshire Social Contract, and developing the Oxfordshire Digital Investment Plan

The two plans are part of the connected Local Industrial Strategies covering the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, a plan from the National Infrastructure Commission which is intended to safeguard the booming economies of the UK’s science and technology hub. The Arc means the large scale development of homes, offices and roads across central England and the re-opening of the previously closed Oxford to Cambridge railway. The other 2 areas are Buckinghamshire and the South East Midlands.

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 East of England, with three LEPs, has received the least with £703m, London, with one LEP, has received £435m and the north of England, with 11 LEPs, has received most of the funding at £3.4bn (38%).

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 is an overlapping LEP area in the region which means these LEPs will currently be unable to bid for funds from the Government’s proposed Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace EU structural funding after Brexit. South East Midlands LEP overlaps with Buckinghamshire LEP in the north of the region.

The South East Local Enterprise Partnership (which includes Essex (part of the East of England region)) has received £591m, the 3rd highest in England since 2015 whereas the Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP has received £74m, the 3rd lowest in England. Other South East regional LEP awards have been Coast to Capital £304m, Oxfordshire £143m, Solent £183m, Thames Valley Berkshire £143m and Enterprise M3 £219m. The Ministry does not 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 region from ESCoE showed growth at 2.0% which compared with the UK average of 1.5%.

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 1,137 jobs were created in the Oxfordshire Science Vale Enterprise Zone, the fifth best performing zone in England, and 110 jobs in the Solent Enterprise Zone which was less successful. 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. A further 24 Zones were created in 2016 and 2017.

There was good news in Cowley, when BMW confirmed that production of its new electric Mini will start November. Deliveries of the first fully electric Mini will start in March 2020. Earlier this year, a BMW director said the company would have to consider moving car production out of the UK if there was a no-deal Brexit. Less positive in Reading, Thames Water’s plan to reduce costs has put 350 staff at risk of redundancy. A further 300 jobs could also go by not filling vacancies and through terminating contractor roles.

The South East records the second lowest unemployment rate in the UK and sees household incomes increase the most outside London

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Unemployment in the South East decreased by 5,000 to 143,000 between February and April. The drop of 0.1% to 3.0% meant the region had the joint second lowest rate in the country. 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%.

South East average property prices fell by 0.1% to £318,727 during the month which meant annually prices dropped by 0.8%. 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, the South East had the joint biggest increase in household incomes outside London between 2016 and 2017. The uplift of 1.3% beat all the other regions of the UK except the North East, household incomes in London grew by 2.2% but in Yorkshire they fell by 0.2%. Nottingham had the UK’s lowest gross disposable household income (wages or benefits) of £12,445. The UK average is £19,514 per household with London borough Kensington and Chelsea recording household income over £60,000 and a growth rate of 4.9% from the previous year. The South East had the second highest gross disposable household income in the UK of £22,568.

On jobs, the South East looks set to lose out following the announcement of restructuring plans at two finance sector blue chips. M&G Prudential is closing four English offices and uplifting its headcount in Scotland by 800 over the next six years. The firm is expanding its presence in Stirling and Edinburgh where staff from the Reading office will be encouraged to relocate. Insurer Aviva, has said it will cut 1,800 jobs worldwide over the next three years in order to reduce costs. Aviva has 16,000 employees in the UK with offices in Dorking and Eastleigh.

Outsourcing firm Capita, which runs Southern Water’s call centres, has signed a £30m five-year deal to handle other roles including billing and customer correspondence. The deal means that the majority of the 220 customer service staff at offices in Worthing and Falmer will be transferred to Capita, which has offices in Rotherham and Bangalore. Southern Water had started a 45-day consultation about the transfer of the work.

A restructuring at Portsmouth University could see the equivalent of 34 full time posts cut in the faculty of science which would affect up to 65 people. The faculty has about 400 staff in total. And in Oxford, the firm of well-known fund manager Neil Woodford is planning redundancies after investors pulled billions of pounds from his flagship fund. The cuts are expected to affect a small number of support staff.

A Surrey County Council planning meeting to consider drilling at four oil wells near Horley has been cancelled for the third month in a row. The application by an oil exploration firm is for the retention and extension of the existing well site including the drilling of four new hydrocarbon wells and one water reinjection well. The project also includes ancillary development to enable the production of hydrocarbons from six wells for a period of 25 years.

On transport, two of South Western Railway’s Class 442 trains or ‘plastic pigs’ are back in service after a £500,000 per carriage refurbishment. The 1980s rolling stock were due to be brought back into service last month but were withdrawn due to a safety problem with the door locks. The two mothballed trains were refurbished at Eastleigh and Bournemouth in Dorset where a further 16 trains are currently being worked on.

In the Solent, a Canadian investment firm has bought a 50% share in Isle of Wight ferry operator Wightlink. Fiera Infrastructure, the Toronto-based company, has acquired the stake for an undisclosed sum from Basalt Infrastructure Partners which was previously known as Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Partners. Wightlink’s new £30m hybrid-power ferry Victoria of Wight entered service last August which was welcome after four breakdowns on other vessels last year. Wightlink has provided ferry services to and from the island for 160 years and operates six ferries and two catamarans on three routes serving 4.5m passengers and running more than 45,000 crossings annually.

A strong uplift in SE growth, an unwelcome UK first in the region and Sussex councils hope to WOW tourists and beer drinkers

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Growth in the South East increased by a striking 0.7% to 2.0% in the year to March 2019, the second highest uplift 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. 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 South East increased slightly by 7,000 to 151,000 between January and March, an uplift of 0.1% to 3.2%. 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 South East increased to £691 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.

South East average property prices fell by 0.6% to £318,491 during the month which meant annually prices dropped by 0.4%. 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 concluded that the South East had a surplus of £20bn. This compares with London which had the highest surplus of £34.3bn. On a per person basis the South East surplus was £2,258, 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 and the East of England. At a national level, the UK had a deficit of £636 per person which split into deficits of £106, £2,452, £4,395 and £4,939 for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Alexander Dennis, the world’s largest producer of double-decker buses, has been sold to a Canadian firm for £320m. The company will now become part of the NFI Group, which makes buses for the North American market. Over 300 staff are employed at the firm’s chassis factory in Guildford. Also, a vote of confidence in Buckinghamshire after packaging business Ecopac (UK) Ltd was bought by Glasgow-based packaging firm Macfarlane Group. Ecopac focuses on customers based near its 60,000 sq ft facilities near Aylesbury. Macfarlane is the UK’s biggest protective packaging distributor.

An unwelcome first for the region after Hadlow College in Kent, was put into educational administration – the new UK education insolvency regime – after the Education Secretary applied to the High Court. The college has more than 2,000 students and 454 staff and specialises in rural sector training. Accountancy firm BDO has been appointed as education administrators. Also in Kent, British Steel has been placed in compulsory liquidation putting 40 jobs at risk at a distribution centre in South Darenth. The Official Receiver has taken control of the company as part of the insolvency process and hopes to find a buyer from the 60 firms which have expressed an interest.

Online food retailer Ocado, has decided to rebuild an automated warehouse in Andover, Hampshire, after a fire destroyed the previous distribution centre which processed 30,000 orders or 10% of Ocado’s capacity each week. Up to 400 jobs are at risk because the construction project will take at least two years.

On the trains, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said the new east-west London railway Crossrail, was driven over its budget and beyond its schedule after management clung to an unrealistic opening date. The overall budget for Crossrail has risen from £14.8bn in 2010 to £17.6bn. Changes to designs and contractors’ delivery schedules cost around £2.5bn between 2013 and 2018, according to the NAO’s analysis.

The reintroduction of refurbished 1980s Class 442 trains – nicknamed ‘plastic pigs’ by commuters – has been delayed by the South Western Railway (SWR) over safety concerns. Planned new services between Southampton Airport and Poole and Waterloo have been postponed. The mothballed trains were being refurbished at Eastleigh in Hampshire but only six of the 18 trains were ready – the rest may take a further year to complete. The £45m refitting project was intended to get extra seats into service more quickly than would have been possible with new trains.

On development, plans have been submitted to New Forest District Council to build a new town on the site of the former oil fired Fawley Power Station which closed in 2013. The £1bn Fawley Waterside project would incorporate 1,500 homes and create 2,000 jobs. The station’s landmark 198m chimney would be demolished in 2020 then replaced with a 100m tower which would act as a navigational aid for sailors. Building work would begin in 2021 and the first homes would be available by 2023. Plans to build 600 homes and an IKEA superstore in Lancing, West Sussex, have not been called in by the government. The £150m New Monks Farm development will create hundreds of homes, a new roundabout on the A27, a country park, land for a school and a community hub.

Also in West Sussex, construction work is underway on the WOW – Worthing Observation Wheel. The 46m wheel will be sited next to the beach in Montague Place. Worthing Borough Council has awarded a three-year lease to deKoning Leisure Ltd, which will operate the wheel between April and October every year, when it will be dismantled for the winter. Similar attractions around the UK have required significant investment to enhance economic development but the cost to Worthing Borough Council is minimal as the land is leased to the wheel operator and owner.

An innovative, potential intervention by Eastbourne Borough Council this month. The Council is considering opening a microbrewery to supply its own bars across Eastbourne and promote tourism. Whether a council can brew beer as competitively as local brewers such as Harveys, however, remains to be seen.

South East property prices drop sharply, significant economic activity planned for Southampton and Newbury and West Berkshire focuses on local economic development

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Unemployment in the South East ticked up by 5,000 to 155,000 between December and February, an increase of 0.1% to 3.3%. At 2.6% and 5.6% the SW of England and the North East had the lowest and highest unemployment rates in the country respectively. The national unemployment rate stands at 3.9% and UK average earnings grew by 3.5% or by 1.6% after inflation.

South East average property prices fell sharply by 1.7% to £315,700 during the month which meant annual prices had dropped by 1.8%. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.8% to £226,234 during April which cut the annual growth rate to 0.6%.

Some high value development projects were announced in the region this month. First, Exxon Mobil will invest more than £800m in an expansion of Fawley Refinery on Southampton Water. The project will increase the production of ultra-low sulphur diesel by almost 45% or about 38,000 barrels of oil a day reducing UK imports. Second, US/UK developer Lincoln MGT says it will transform its Station Hill site near Reading railway station in a £750m project. Planning permission for the six-and-a-half acre area was granted in January 2015 so much of the site has already been demolished. Plans to build 538 new flats have been submitted as part of the first stage.

In West Sussex, councillors have approved a new business park in Billingshurst and a roundabout on the A29. The project on the northern edge of the village will create industrial units, a petrol station, ancillary retail space and a drive-thru cafe. The eight hectares of land is north of a 475-home development currently under construction and will be accessed by a new roundabout on the A29. On leisure developments, Premier League side, Bournemouth, will start work on a new multi-million pound training complex at the 57-acre former Canford Magna Golf Club site and in Hampshire, a new £16m leisure centre has opened in Andover.

On regional infrastructure, coast-bound traffic on the M20 returned to three lanes at 70mph, while London-bound traffic continued to be restricted to two lanes at 50mph, after Highways England deactivated Operation Brock – the no-deal Brexit plan in which one side of the motorway was reserved for lorries. In Southampton, work started on the £14m Windhover roundabout project as Highways England improves access to the M27. In Oxford, a £41m project to store and feed electricity into the city’s grid which will provide ground-source heating to c300 homes and 20 vehicle charging points has started trialling. A large battery is connected to an electric substation in Cowley which then feeds the local grid.

Despite the very good regional unemployment figures, there have been a few blackspots. Kimberly-Clark’s 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. A contracting business David Einig Contracting Ltd, based in Thame, has gone into liquidation leaving more than 100 staff without jobs. Three Debenhams stores in the region will close as part of the new owners restructuring. The shops in Southsea in Hampshire, Slough in Berkshire and Witney in Oxfordshire will be axed.

A new economic development company has been set up to boost the Newbury & West Berkshire economy. The not-for-profit company is non-political and independent of West Berkshire Council. It is hoped that the two organisations will work alongside each other to achieve similar aims such as the retention of a young workforce. Start up funding has been secured and the venture has achieved some support from high profile local businesses; now key stakeholders need to be identified and funding models explored. It is not clear how the new company will work with the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

Two regional companies Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd and Oxford Space Systems are to develop an ultra-low-cost radar satellite which will hopefully achieve its first flight in 2021. Satellites that currently operate in this field are expensive but the firms’ satellite can observe in all weathers and at all times of the day using the latest miniaturisation of electronics. The development work is being supported by a grant from the UK’s National Space Technology Programme.

On regional transport, a new £10m freight ferry has arrived in Southampton to join Red Funnel’s fleet. Red Kestrel, built by Merseyside shipbuilder Cammell Laird over nine months, will operate between Southampton and the Isle of Wight. In the air, Staycationing is driving growth at Southampton Airport with Manchester the most popular destination followed by Edinburgh; the 11,000 Easter passengers who flew over the period represents a c44% uplift. The Brexit uncertainty and weak pound that is driving Staycationing has conversely impacted international travel. This is evidenced by FlyLolo, which pulled its Southampton to Skiathos twice-weekly route; about 2,000 passengers were affected.

The South East continued to prepare for a Brexit which never came, missed the worst of Storm Gareth and wondered whether there will be enough water to drink in the future.

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Unemployment in the South East fell sharply by 12,000 to 149,000 between November and January; the drop of 0.3% to 3.1% was one of the best in the UK. At 2.9% and 5.2% the SW of England and Yorkshire & Humberside 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 South East dropped slightly to £685 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.

South East average property prices fell by 0.5% to £321,174 during the month which meant annual growth was an anaemic 0.1%. In comparison UK prices dropped by 0.8% during March which cut the annual growth rate to 1.7%. The South East market was also slower with the latest figures to September 2018 showing volumes down by 3.5%.

Funding for the Port of Ramsgate – which was at the centre of a row over a no-deal-Brexit ferry contract – was axed by Thanet District Council which said it would no longer keep the port ‘ferry-ready’. In December the government gave Seaborne Freight a £13.8m contract to run a service to Ostend, Belgium, to offset delays in the case of a no-deal Brexit, but later the Seaborne contract was cancelled. The Government is now facing legal action from Eurotunnel, which said the contracts awarded to Seaborne and two other ferry companies were handed out in a secretive way. Residents of Kent looked across the Channel at what might come their way as traffic jams built up around Calais as French customs officers worked to rule, carrying out tighter checks on lorries heading for the Channel Tunnel and the ferry port.

In comparison with other parts of the UK the South East got off lightly, but some economic damage was caused by Storm Gareth, for example 60 tonnes of mud and trees hit the track at Wadhurst blocking the line between the East Sussex coast, Kent and London.

Within 25 years the South East of England will not have enough water to meet demand, the head of the Environment Agency warned. Water transfers between regions – from areas of water surplus to areas of deficit – will be needed. The economic case for greater resilience was clear he said, citing a 2016 Environment Agency report that found a severe drought would cost each household more than £100 but that the cost per household of the required investment that would reduce the risk was only £4 a year.

On regional infrastructure, the Government has sought to improve transport and economic development around the Thames Estuary which – despite its proximity to London – has relatively low economic growth and high unemployment. A new Thames Estuary Growth Board will be established and £4.85m has been allocated to develop proposals for improved transport services between Abbey Wood and Ebbsfleet. In Berkshire, £20m of funding earmarked for a Mass Rapid Transit route between Reading and Wokingham will be redeployed elsewhere after plans were scrapped. One new project could be a new £4m bridge in Barkham, Wokingham, to ease congestion, plus a park and ride in the town.

A nuclear fusion project in Oxfordshire has received £92.1m of EU funding, securing its future. The Joint European Torus (Jet) in Culham is home to the world’s largest fusion reactor and has more than 500 staff. Scientists from across the EU use the reactor for experiments on potential carbon-free fusion energy. The Department for Business said the funding guarantees its future until the end of 2020 regardless of Brexit. The EU covers 88% of the running costs but the centre now has enough funding for at least two years.

The University of Surrey has offered voluntary redundancy to all staff as it seeks to make £15m of cuts. Staffing levels will be reduced and £5m could be saved by not filling existing vacancies. A fall in its national league table position has not helped, reflecting the problems faced by many midsized universities which need to maintain investment in order to continue to attract students who now – due to tuition fees – demand more for their money.

Primark plans to move 220 jobs from its head office in Reading to the company’s international headquarters in Dublin. The firm is moving its buying, merchandising, design, quality and sourcing operations to Ireland from September; employees affected by the changes will have the opportunity to work in Dublin. A number of core functions will continue to be based in Reading. TK Maxx will be opening at The Lexicon in Bracknell next month; 40 new jobs will be created.