The State of Britain

The East of England records the second lowest unemployment rate in the UK but Central Bedfordshire households see their incomes squeezed the most, and a Kiss contributes to economic growth

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Unemployment in the East of England decreased by 7,000 to 96,000 between February and April. The drop of 0.2% to 3.0% meant the region had the joint second lowest rate in the country. At 2.7% and 5.7% 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%.

The East of England’s average property prices increased by 0.3% to £289,436 during the month which uplifted the annual growth rate to 0.6%. 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, Central Bedfordshire had the biggest decrease in household income between 2016 and 2017. The decline of 2.6% beat West Lancashire at 1.9% and East Derbyshire at 1.7%. Nottingham has been named the UK’s poorest city, narrowly beating Leicester by £115 per household. 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. Central Bedfordshire, which includes Dunstable, had an above average gross disposable household income of £19,870.

On jobs, the East of England 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 the Chelmsford office will be encouraged to relocate. 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 an office in Norwich.

More positively, Swift Aircraft has been granted permission to bring RAF Coltishall back into use for tests. The firm plans to build 96 two-seater aircraft a year, employing 100 people on production and design. The based was used by military aircraft for 60 years up to its closure in 2006.

The cost of constructing a new nuclear plant at Sizewell in Suffolk could be £16bn, £4bn less than at Hinkley Point, the only plant currently under construction in the UK. EDF is also keen to reduce the financing costs of the plant by adopting a financing model used in regulated monopolies including airports and water companies. Users pay up front – which could mean about £6 on the average annual energy bill – and EDF would borrow against that guaranteed income stream. Financing costs could be reduced from about 9% at Hinkley Point to 4-5% at Sizewell.

If the project does go ahead, construction traffic will have to use existing routes after plans to take A12 traffic away from the villages of Marlesford, Glemham, Stratford St Andrew and Farnham via a new bypass were rejected by the government. Suffolk County Council had agreed to underwrite £6.6m of the £133m total cost of the scheme, while EDF Energy was expected to fund part of the £126m if it got planning permission for Sizewell C.

Also on the roads, a bypass which will connect Peterborough and Whittlesey, which will include a bridge over the Peterborough-Ely railway line, will now cost £39m instead of the initial forecast of £13.6m. Consequently Cambridgeshire County Council has requested a further £8.7m from the Combined Authority as it now controls the county’s budgets for major infrastructure projects. In terms of economic benefit, delays of up to 13 minutes occur when slower freight trains pass the level crossing.

In Ipswich, the Upper Orwell Crossings project – started in 2015 – was initially forecast to cost £97m but this was later revised to £139m and the scheme was scrapped. This sum would have procured two road bridges and a pedestrian and cycle bridge. Before being stopped the project incurred costs of £8m, half of which went to a consultancy firm and £2m was spent on contractors carrying out the investigation into ground works. The remainder was for legal services, architects, IT, communications consultants and dealing with private landowners.

Also in Ipswich, the loan of Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’ helped boost visitor numbers at Christchurch Mansion to record levels. After being loaned by London’s Tate Gallery for six months from November last year, the museum welcomed a record 61,282 visitors in 2018-19, up 46% on the previous best of 45,130 in 2017-18. In August, an exhibition will open charting Ed Sheeran’s rise from Suffolk schoolboy to international star.

In Norwich, a £13.5m project to restore the castle as a 12th Century royal palace aims to attract 300,000 visitors per year. The Gateway to Medieval England project will put back the 12th Century Norman royal palace, create a British Museum gallery looking at the medieval period, an early-years learning facility and provide a rooftop viewing platform. About £8.7m of the funding comes from the National Lottery with the balance coming from the council, trusts, foundations, central government, private companies and individuals.