London or the East Midlands top? The pandemic clouds regional economic performance but it is clear the North West of England wins the productivity prize

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A nowcast for the 12 months ended March 2021 which incorporates the second lockdown, published by the Economic Statistic Centre of Excellence (‘ESCoE’) on a rolling 4 quarter basis, has estimated that the East Midlands performed the ‘best’ with a fall of 9.4%, with Wales’s 13.4% contraction the ‘worst’. The UK overall posted -11.8% on the same measure.

Official ONS figures for an earlier period which reflects a mix of continued recovery from the first lockdown but also a slowdown from the second lockdown show London was the top UK ‘region ‘with quarterly growth of 3.1% whilst the East Midlands was bottom, posting growth of -0.8%. UK growth was 1%.

Productivity

ONS figures also showed that in 2020, output per hour worked increased by 4.6% in the NW which ranked the region top out of the 12 UK ‘regions and fell the most in the West Midlands, decreasing by 1.4%. Output per hour worked in the UK overall increased by 0.4%.

Research and Development

UK R&D spend rose by £1.3bn (3.4%) to £38.5bn in 2019 – the lowest percentage growth since 2013. Most R&D expenditure was in the business sector at £25.9bn (67% of the UK total), followed by the higher education sector at £9.1bn (24%).

Total R&D expenditure represented 1.74% of GDP in 2019; compared with 1.59% in 2008 and 1.72% in 2018. Overseas funding increased by 4.1% to £5.6bn in 2019 compared with 2018; this was 0.8% higher than the peak in 2014 of £5.5bn.

The South East did best and secured £7.5bn of R&D expenditure with the North East only attracting £0.7bn.

UK stats

GDP

ONS stats for the UK as a whole are more recent than those shown at the regional level above.  UK GDP fell by 1.6% in the three months to March 2021. Over that quarter, services fell by 2.1%, with construction up by 2.3% and production down by 0.5%.

Overall GDP has fallen by 8.8% from its pre-pandemic level. Growth in the month of May 2021 was 0.8%.

Overseas, according to Eurostat, GDP decreased by 0.1% in the EU27 during the first quarter of 2021. This meant that annually GDP fell by 1.2% in the EU.

Over that quarter the data showed that the German economy fell by 1.8%, France by 0.1%, with Italy at +0.1%. Annually, Germany contracted by 3.1% and France grew by 1.2% with a 0.8% decline recorded in Italy.

Labour

The UK labour market, supported by the Job Retention Scheme, saw the level of employment at 31.2m in May 2021 and the level of unemployment fall to 1.6m or 4.8%.

The EU27 unemployment rate was at 7.3%. The lowest unemployment rate in May 2021 was 3.3% in both the Czech Republic/Netherlands and the highest was 15.4% in Greece.

Inflation

UK inflation was 2.4% in June 2021 with European Union inflation at 2.2%.

Debt

The UK public sector deficit in June 2021 was £22.8n, £5.5bn less than in June 2020. Debt at the end of June 2021 was £2,218bn which was 99.7% of GDP, the highest ratio since March 1961. EU debt is 98% of GDP.

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