The State of Britain

Increased exports helps Scotland record a trade surplus, the Western Isles imports the least services in the UK, Scottish property prices tumble

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HMRC has published the latest regional trade figures which show exports and imports for 2019. Given the time period this data reflects Brexit uncertainty rather than Covid 19 turmoil. 

In the year to December 2019, the overall value of UK trade in goods exports increased by 2.1% to £346bn compared with the same period in 2018. The overall value of imports increased by 0.3% to £483bn.

There was an increase in the annual export value in Scotland along with five of the 12 UK ‘regions’. Scotland’s exports increased by 4.4% or £1.4bn to £34bn which was 10% of the UK total. The increase took Scotland above the West Midlands to third in the UK rankings.

The leading regional exporter remained the SE of England at £46bn with Northern Ireland the smallest at £9bn. The best performer in percentage terms was London which was up by 17.2%, with Yorkshire & The Humber falling by 6.3%.

There was a decrease in the annual import value in Scotland along with five of the 12 UK ‘regions’. Scotland’s imports fell by 7% or 1.9bn to £24bn which was 5% of the UK total. The figures, which are experimental, suggest that in 2017 Scotland had a trading surplus in goods of c£10bn. The only other part of the UK to record a surplus was Northern Ireland.

The biggest regional importer was the SE of England at £98bn with Northern Ireland the smallest at £8bn. In percentage terms London added 12% to imports compared with Scotland which as stated above, reduced imports by 7%.

The Netherlands was Scotland’s largest export market with oil and related products the best export. Most of Scotland’s imported goods came from the USA with machinery and transport equipment the biggest import.


This month the ONS published data on regional services imports for 2017. The biggest component of services imported into the UK was £51bn of travel. This was 28% of the £181bn UK total imports of services.

Scotland imported £13bn of services value in 2017 of which £4bn was travel. The biggest importer of services was London at £60bn with Northern Ireland importing £1.6bn.

At a local level, the biggest importer of non-travel services into the UK was Camden and City of London at £14.5bn, almost double the next largest importer which was Westminster at £7.9bn. Of the 167 local areas, the Western Isles of Scotland imported the least amount, £21m, with Anglesey next at £31m.

In Scotland, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire imported £2.5bn of non-travel services compared with The Western Isles.

The data on services exports was released by the ONS last year which showed Scotland exported £22bn of services. London exported the most services at £117bn which compared with Northern Ireland at £2.9bn.

Other data

The ONS has also published the latest regional construction sector data to December 2019 which again reflects Brexit uncertainty rather than Covid 19 turmoil. Compared with the previous quarter all parts of the UK recorded a decline with Scotland posting a 3% drop to £3.8bn. The biggest decrease in the UK was 4.6% in the West Midlands; the SE was best with a 0.9% fall.

More pre-pandemic data from the ONS showed unemployment in the country was 1,000 lower at 105,000 between December and February; the drop of 0.1% took the rate to 3.7%. Northern Ireland had the lowest rate of 2.5% with the NE of England the highest at 5.6%, the UK rate was 4%.

The South East of England had the highest employment rate at 80.1% which compared with 75.4% in Scotland where 2.7m are employed; the UK rate was 76.6%.

Scotland’s average property price fell the most in the UK over the month by 1.6% to £150,524. The drop took the annual increase to 2.5%. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.6% to £230,332 during February, an annual growth rate of 1.1%.