The North West economy contracts by 5.2% following lockdown but pre-pandemic data shows an earlier strong expansion and the Job Retention Scheme helps push regional unemployment down

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A nowcast for the NW for the 12 months ended June 2020 on a rolling 4 quarter basis, published by the Economic Statistic Centre of Excellence (‘ESCoE’), has estimated that the NW economy contracted by 5.2%.

This ranked the NW third in the UK and suggests the regional economy has so far coped ‘better’ with the pandemic relative to the other eleven UK ‘regions’. Over the same period the East Midlands was ‘best’ with a fall of 4.5%, with London’s 7.4% contraction the ‘worst’; the UK decline according to the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) figures was 5.3%.

ESCoE is a partnership of research institutions and the ONS and has highlighted that during these unprecedented times, there is no historical data that their model can use to fully understand how the pandemic will impact regional economies. Consequently the partnership emphasises the uncertainties that exist with their nowcast at this time.

ONS GDP to December 2019

Official ONS figures for an earlier period which reflects Brexit uncertainty rather than Covid 19 turmoil, show the region moving up places relative to other parts of the UK. Following its first publication of quarterly GDP estimates for the regions in September 2019, the ONS has now published its fifth estimate for the NW, the other eight English regions, and Wales.  GDP figures have been available for the UK since the 1940s, for Scotland since 2002 and Northern Ireland since 2013.

These stats are for the period six months before ESCoE’s estimates shown above and compare GDP in the quarter ended December 2019 with the same quarter a year earlier. These showed the NW contracted by 0.4%, an improvement on -1.3% the previous quarter. This placed the NW seventh (previous ranking eleventh) out of the twelve UK ‘regions’.

London topped the table with growth of 5% whilst UK growth over the same period was 0.9%. The West Midlands was again the worst performer and contracted by 2.7%. The North East, Wales, East Midlands and the North West were the other ‘regions’ in the UK to suffer a decline.

In the same report, the ONS’s figures highlighted that the standalone quarter to December 2019 also showed a much improving picture in the NW with the data far better than the previous quarter. The NW economy grew by 0.5% in October to December 2019, following -0.5% in July to September 2019.

This placed the NW second (previous ranking last) out of the twelve UK ‘regions. The NW was one of five regions of the UK that saw their economies grow but overall UK growth was flat.

The SW was top with quarterly growth of 0.8% whilst the North East was bottom, posting a drop of 1.3%.

In this period, the NW’s best sector was manufacturing with growth of 4.6% but education fell by 4%. Overall production was +4.1%, construction +0.1%, services -0.3% and agriculture -0.2%.

Labour

Data from the ONS showed the Job Retention Scheme continued to depress unemployment across the UK. Unemployment in the region was 20,000 lower at 128,000 between April and June; the drop of 0.5% took the rate to 3.5%. At 5.2% the North East was the highest; Northern Ireland had the lowest rate of 2.5%, with the UK rate at 3.9%.

The South East had the highest employment rate at 79.7%, this compared with 71.7% in Northern Ireland and 76.2% in the NW where 3.5m are employed; the UK rate was 76.4%.

Housing

The NW’s average property price fell by 0.2% in April 2020 to £167,809. The drop took the annual uplift to 3.4%. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.2% to £234,612 during April, an annual growth rate of 2.6%.

The ONS data is based on completed housing transactions. Typically, a house purchase can take 6 to 8 weeks to reach completion so the price data in the April figures will therefore reflect those completions that occurred before lockdown.

This is the first publication of the UK HPI since it was suspended in May 2020. The UK Property Transactions Statistics for April 2020 showed that that between March 2020 and April 2020, transactions decreased by 55.5%.

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