The State of Britain

Taxation receipts exceed public spending in the SE by an extra £3.5bn and the government’s nationalisation of Northern Rail throws South Western Railway’s franchise into focus

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In the ONS’s estimate of regional public spending and regional tax revenues in 2019, the SE had a surplus of £21.7bn, a larger surplus than the £18.2bn recorded in 2018. This compared with London, which had the highest surplus of £38.9bn.

On a per person basis, the SE’s surplus was £2,394, higher than the £2,023 recorded in 2018. London had the largest surplus of £4,369 per person whereas Northern Ireland had the biggest shortfall at £4,978.

The SE was one of three areas of the UK to run surpluses, along with London and the East of England. The West Midlands and the North East were the two regions in the UK to increase their net fiscal deficits over the year; the other seven regions reduced their shortfalls.

At a national level, the UK had a deficit of £623 per person which splits into deficits of £68, £2,713, £4,289 and £4,978 for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively.

Public spending in the SE was £109.3bn or £11,967 per head, an increase on the 2018 figure of £107.2bn. London had the biggest spend of £123.9bn or £13,826 per head whereas Northern Ireland had the lowest at £27.9bn or £14,821 per head. Total government spending was £853bn or £12,835 per head.

The SE collected £131bn in taxes in 2019. London contributed the most to the Exchequer at £161.9bn, compared with the lowest contribution of £18.5bn which was from Northern Ireland. Overall the state raised £811.3bn or £12,213 per head in taxes, an uplift of £34.1bn or £461 per head compared with 2018.

More data from the ONS showed unemployment in the SE fell increased by 9,000 to 158,000 between September and November 2019; the uplift of 0.2% took the overall rate to 3.3%. Northern Ireland had the lowest rate at 2.3% with the UK rate at 3.8%.

The South West continued to have the highest employment rate at 79.8% which compared with 79.7% in the SE. The UK employment rate was 76.3%.

SE average property prices increased by 0.4% during November 2019, the uplift to £326,636, took annual growth to 1%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.4% to £235,298 an annual growth rate of 2.2%.

On development, Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead councillors have given Legoland Windsor Resort permission to build on greenbelt land. The theme park in Berkshire wants to create a new drop tower ride and a main attraction building on land on the outskirts of the current site.

Planners opined that economic benefits in respect of the tourism economy, employment and operational spend had outweighed harm to the greenbelt. At least 20 new jobs will be created.

A new buyer has not been found for Godalming based The Book People and administrators PwC say 155 people have been made redundant. The business was founded in Godalming in 1998 and employed 393 people last month.

The firm has offices in Bangor, Gwynedd, and Godalming, Surrey. PwC said 82 of the 142 staff at the Bangor office have lost their jobs.

In Portsmouth, the closure of a Nolato Jaycare factory with the loss of 115 jobs is likely to benefit the firm’s other plant in Newcastle. The medical packaging firm said the Portsmouth plant produced medicine bottles ‘with relatively low added value’.

On transport, the government’s nationalisation of Northern Rail has thrown South Western Railway’s (SWR) franchise into sharper focus.

SWR’s owners FirstGroup and MTR were awarded the franchise in August 2017, after outbidding previous operator Stagecoach. The firm operates routes between London Waterloo, Reading, Bristol, Exeter, Weymouth, and Portsmouth, as well as Island Line on the Isle of Wight.

Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said poor punctuality and reliability combined with slower revenue growth has led to the operator’s financial performance being ‘significantly below expectation’ since the franchise began in August 2017. The company recently declared a £137m loss.

The firm said it is currently involved in discussions with the government over the future of the franchise. Options for the government are agreeing a new contract, granting a short-term contract to SWR or moving operations to the Department for Transport via the Operator of Last Resort, a public sector operator wholly owned by the Department for Transport i.e. renationalisation.