The State of Britain

The EE one of three UK regions to run a budget surplus and tensions between economic development and planning in evidence

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In the ONS’s estimate of regional public spending and regional tax revenues in 2019, the EE had a surplus of £4.1bn, a larger surplus than the £2.8bn recorded in 2018. This compared with London, which had the highest surplus of £38.9bn.

On a per person basis, the EE’s surplus was £661, higher than the £459 recorded in 2018. London had the largest surplus of £4,369 per person whereas Northern Ireland had the biggest shortfall at £4,978.

The EE was one of three areas of the UK to run surpluses, along with London and the SE 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; all the other 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 EE was £73bn or £11,772 per head, an increase on the 2018 figure of £71bn. 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 EE collected £77.1bn 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 EE fell slightly by 2,000 to 106,000 between September and November 2019; the decrease of 0.1% 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 78.5% in the EE. The UK employment rate was 76.3%.

EE average property prices fell by 0.7% during November 2019, the drop to £291,281, meant that annually prices also fell by 0.7%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.4% to £235,298 an annual growth rate of 2.2%.

Away from the stats, the accepted tensions between a council’s economic development department and its planning arm were in evidence in the region this month.

Firstly, planning officers at Uttlesford District Council recommended proposals to increase the passenger cap at Stansted Airport to 43m pa. Plans for a new £150m arrivals terminal – part of a £600m plan to increase capacity and facilities – were put on hold last year.

The deal included up to £19.2m on community projects including sound insulation and homeowner relocation, as well as more than £15m for transport projects including work on Junction 8 on the M11. But the council’s special planning committee rejected the scheme.

Then in Suffok, a Scottish Power renewables project to build two wind farms, a cable route through Thorpeness, as well as three substations in Friston, was vetoed by councillors who cited concerns about damage to the Suffolk coast. A final recommendation to the secretary of state is not expected until early 2021.

In Essex, the proposed £50m development of Seaway Car Park in Southend was delayed after councillors deferred their decision on planning permission. The development would see a cinema, restaurants and a new car park built on the site.

More positively in Norfolk, Great Yarmouth Borough council has £2.5m in place for a market redevelopment project aimed at replacing the existing facilities on the Market Place with a timber-framed covered hall and new stalls. The council hopes the balance of the £3.6m investment could come from the government’s new Future High Streets Fund.

Also in Norfolk, Norwich-based gift and toy chain Hawkin’s Bazaar has entered administration, putting c180 jobs at risk. Administrators will continue to trade from the firm’s 19 shops in the hope that a buyer can be found.

Regional interventions were in the spotlight this month after it emerged that a law company set up by Central Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire county councils and one other local authority has recorded a £1.2m loss. The firm, LGSS Law, is owned by the three councils and offers public sector legal services. It is understood that an overdraft offered by Cambridgeshire County Council has been largely drawn down.