The State of Britain

London households see their disposable income grow at more than double the rate of the rest of the UK and a couple of key cycling projects shelved

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Unemployment in London increased by 2,000 to 209,000 between February and April, an uplift of 0.1% to 4.3%. The South West had the lowest rate in the UK at 2.7%; at 5.7% the North East had the highest. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

London average property prices increased by 2.4% to £471,504 during the month which meant annually prices dropped by 1.2%. 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, London had the biggest increase in disposable household income between 2016 and 2017. The uplift of 2.2% beat the second placed South East and North East both at 1.3%, the UK average growth rate was 1.0%. 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. Overall, London had an average gross disposable household income of £27,825.

On jobs, the capital 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 two London offices will be encouraged to relocate but the firm’s London HQ is unaffected. 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 London.

More positively, Facebook is to take on 500 new staff, including 100 new artificial intelligence roles, by the end of 2019. A significant number of new jobs will be in Facebook’s Community Integrity team tasked with the safety of the Facebook community.

Also, supermarket Lidl will open 40 new stores in London as part of a £500m five year expansion plan. The project includes the new head office in Tolworth, south-west London, and the expansion of its Belvedere distribution centre. New stores will be opened across the capital including new outlets in Alperton, East Acton, Hackbridge, Watford and its first central London store on Tottenham Court Road. A new distribution centre is also planned near to Luton, and will be the company’s fourth site to service Greater London. The firm said the expansion will create c1,500 jobs in the long term.

On infrastructure, a project to build a cycle and pedestrian bridge across the River Thames in east London has been scrapped. The crossing had been intended to run between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf but at a £600m cost alternatives such as a ferry service will be reassessed by City Hall. The project was an engineering challenge as its position meant it would need to be the world’s largest vertical-opening bridge so ships could pass.

Also scrapped, is a £42m cycleway project to build or upgrade 4.7 miles of bike paths between Wood Lane and Notting Hill Gate after Kensington and Chelsea Council said it would not support the plan. The project was part of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan’s, strategy for cycling and walking in west London.

On the roads, Hammersmith Bridge could stay closed to vehicles for three years. The bridge was closed in April after a weekly check revealed that known damage was worse than the authorities thought. The bridge belongs to Hammersmith & Fulham Council, who in 2015 agreed with TfL to restore the Grade II listed structure to its Victorian splendour. The Council will use electric buggies to transport elderly and disabled people over the bridge. The small light-weight vehicles (like the ones used in ‘the Prisoner’) will be introduced this summer for people with walking difficulties who have previously used public transport to cross.

Also on electric vehicles, the mayor has outlined plans to roll out more car charging points. The strategy includes installing ultra-rapid charging points at petrol stations and delivering five charging hubs, with the ability for multiple cars to quickly be charged in one place. The first of these hubs will be operational in the Square Mile by the end of the year. Other ideas are opening centres for Londoners to request new charging infrastructure from their local authority in areas of high demand and expanding electric car clubs. So far 183 rapid charging points are operational with 300 on the way by the end of next year.

On the trains, the number of rail passenger journeys in Britain reached a record high in the past year according to the Office of Road and Rail. Almost 1.76bn journeys were taken in 2018/19, an increase of 50.9 million (3%) from the previous year which had seen numbers drop for the first time in eight years. The uplift was driven by journeys in the London and South East sector, which saw growth of 3.9% after falling for the two previous years. Of the four largest passenger operators, who account for more than half of all journeys, only the London Overground network saw a drop in demand and this was likely to be due to engineering work induced closures at Euston station in August and September last year.