The State of Britain

London continues to bankroll UK plc, welcome efficiencies on the Tube and Edwardian road policies mooted in the City

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Growth in London fell by 0.2% to 2.7% in the year to March 2019 according to estimates from ESCoE. At 2.7% the capital had the highest growth rate in the country, at 0.7% Northern Ireland had the lowest. 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 London fell by 4,000 to 214,000 between January and March a drop of 0.1% to 4.4%. 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 London fell to £762 per week; the highest in the UK, whereas Northern Ireland had the lowest of £513. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.3% or by 1.5% after inflation.

London average property prices fell by 0.4% to £463,283 during the month which meant annually prices dropped by 1.9%, the biggest fall in the country. 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 London had a surplus of £34.3bn, the highest surplus in the UK. On a per person basis London also 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.

A report by think tank, the Centre for London, has found that the capital and the UK continues to be the top destination to base multinational company HQs. London and the South East have attracted more investment than other world cities since 2003. The report concluded that access to a highly skilled workforce was the main reason why companies choose to headquarter themselves in the city. The think tank warned though,that London’s status could be threatened and may have been affected by Brexit, citing evidence such as the reduced number of business trips to London and business spend falling from £3.24bn in 2015 to £3.07bn in 2017.

The National Audit Office (NAO) claims that 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. Credit agency, Moodys, estimates the delay will cost TfL around £1bn in lost revenue. When this is added to a £700m reduction in TfL’s government grant and the cost of the mayor’s £640m fares freeze; the scope for new infrastructure projects is limited. The Camden Town station upgrade, Northern Line extension to Battersea and the signalling upgrade to the Piccadilly line have all been delayed. In 2017 new Jubilee and Northern Line trains were also delayed. With TfL in deficit and the delay to Crossrail being paid for with a time extension to the business rate supplement, funding for other projects such as Crossrail 2 & 3, new orbital links for outer London, DLR and tram extensions, seems fanciful.

The first Azuma trains have started running on the LNER service between London and Leeds but it was Greater Anglia’s first class rail users ‘abuse’ of free drinks and snacks at weekends which hit the headlines. The firm said the offer was no longer commercially viable but the deal was still available to first class season ticket holders and customers on weekdays. Virgin Trains and LNER offer complimentary refreshments every day, and East Midlands Trains offers free drinks and snacks to first class passengers from Monday to Friday but provides a complimentary breakfast as part of its first class service on Saturdays. One benefit of the pre-1997 British Rail offering was that at least it was uniformly poor across the network.

From July, anonymous data will be collected from devices as they logon to the wi-fi in more than 260 London Underground stations. A four-week trial in 2016, showed collecting anonymous data helps passengers to better plan routes and avoid congestion or delays. The pilot focused on 54 stations and saw data collected from 5.6m mobile devices. The data helps TfL gain a more accurate understanding of how people move through stations, interchange between services and how crowding develops. The results are far superior to data from ticketing or paper-based surveys. Also the data will be made available for app developers, academics and businesses to create new products and services. Travellers who do not want their data to be collected can opt out by turning off the wi-fi on their devices. Apps will be able to give passengers options to take slower but much less crowded routes where they may get a seat. The economic benefits which could flow from the introduction of transport efficiencies on a network the size of the Underground are likely to be material.

On the roads, a new 15mph speed limit – which could be introduced by 2021 – has been suggested for the Square Mile. If approved by the government, it would be the first area in the UK to have a 15mph limit. It comes after research showed 90% of all journeys made in the City were partially or entirely walked. The City of London Corporation hopes to reduce traffic by 25% by 2030 and 50% by 2044. The City of London has 15 Tube stations, seven Tube lines, eight mainline stations, multiple bus routes and a fast-evolving bicycle network, an enviable transport infrastructure which caters for about half a million commuters. The UK speed limit was previously as low at this in 1903 when it was raised from 14mph to 20mph.