The State of Britain

Nottinghamshire energy projects, changes on the East Midlands’s railways and the Government announces 12 new Institutes of Technology across the UK but the East Midlands’s misses out

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Unemployment in the EM fell by 12,000 to 104,000 between December and February; a cut of 0.6% to 4.2% – the biggest drop in the UK. The SW of England had the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.6% and the NE of England had the highest at 5.6%. The national unemployment rate stands at 3.9% and UK average earnings grew by 3.5% or by 1.6% after inflation.

EM average property prices fell by 0.5% to £190,199 during the month which trimmed the annual growth rate to 1.6%. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.8% to £226,234 during April which cut the annual growth rate to 0.6%.

The EM benefited from some regional job displacement this month when Sports Direct announced the closure of its warehouse in Wigan, threatening 300 jobs. The site will close in June with employees offered alternative employment in Shirebrook, Derbyshire. However, further south in the county, the Muller plant in Foston is at risk of closure as the firm announces plans to review its dairy network which is experiencing over-capacity; 228 staff are affected.

Troubled Vision West Nottinghamshire College hopes to save £2.2m by reducing headcount by 55 employees, mostly in management and support roles – the college has told 72 staff they are at risk of redundancy. The college has already made more than 100 staff redundant and the latest cuts will mean the construction and employability training centre in Sheffield will close. At the city’s Trent University part of the Brackenhurst campus has had to be demolished after a large crack appeared in an exterior wall of a lecture theatre; the new £10m Reception and Environment Centre is due to open in September.

Supported by funding of £170m, the government has announced the locations of 12 Institutes of Technology in England. The Institutes will be collaborations between universities, further education colleges, and leading employers, for example Nissan and New College, Durham. The dozen are spread across the UK, none are in the EM.

Two significant votes of confidence in the region from the East. First, Kuwaiti investors have taken a 50% joint venture stake with Intu in Derby’s Intu shopping centre via a £186m purchase. Second, a Northampton-based shoe manufacturer has opened a store in Tokyo where footwear made in the county is seen as a high end brand, Japan is a key export market for Northamptonshire shoemakers. Tricker’s – which exports 80% of its shoes – also hopes to expand further into South Korea and the United States.

On regional transport, Abellio is to take over the running of the East Midlands railway after it was awarded an eight year franchise. The East Midlands line operates trains between Norwich, Nottingham and Liverpool. The Dutch state-owned firm already operates five other rail franchises. The current franchisee, Stagecoach, was disqualified from re-bidding after a row with the DfT over pension liabilities. Abellio has promised to replace the existing intercity fleet and install an extra 80% of capacity on morning peak services into Nottingham, Lincoln and St Pancras. Smart ticketing, a new express service from Corby through Luton into London and 15-minute delay repay compensation will also be introduced. More than £17m will also be invested in improving station facilities across the route.

In the air, Scottish airline Loganair, will launch new routes from East Midlands Airport to Brussels and Inverness. Starting in September, the airline will fly six times a week to Inverness and daily to Brussels.

New research by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests high streets across the East Midlands have seen the largest fall in the number of shops over the last five years. In 2018, 436 shops closed across the region with only 243 new shops opening; Nottingham saw the highest net loss in the region with 39 stores. Northampton, has lost three major department stores in the last 5 years. In response Northampton Borough Council has created a new Board, Northampton Forward, which has expressed an interest in bidding for money from the government’s £620m Future High Streets Fund.

A key regional development project has suffered a setback due to EU procurement rules. Derby City Council intended to invest £6.4m in a new office block on Bold Lane, – which would accommodate 300 staff – but a ruling at the Court of Appeal against West Berkshire Council has deemed such developments unlawful.

Regional prosperity would be enhanced by a relaxation of the UK’s rules on fracking which – according to the UK’s shale gas tsar who resigned after six months – was being throttled by rules preventing mini earthquakes. Under current rules, drilling must be stopped for 18 hours if it triggers earth tremors above a 0.5 magnitude. This compares with America where a 4.0 Richter scale limit is allowed and where, according to energy firm Ineos, c1m shale gas wells have been drilled safely. Ineos is carrying out tests around Clipstone in Nottinghamshire and believes the UK could emulate the shale gas boom in the US – most of the UK’s shale gas reserves lie under the north of England.

A site near Rufford Country Park could see methane gas extracted from the ground for the next 25 years. Nottinghamshire County Council approved drilling for three weeks to assess whether there is enough gas to make the scheme profitable. If viable, generators will be installed to turn the gas into electricity.