The State of Britain

The North West economy shrinks more slowly than other regions at -1.5% and pre-pandemic data shows the region also contracted earlier

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A quarterly nowcast for the NW for the 3 months ended March 2020 which captures the start of lockdown, published by the Economic Statistic Centre of Excellence (‘ESCoE’), has estimated that the NW economy contracted by 1.5%. ESCoE is a partnership of research institutions and the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’).

This ranked the NW joint third and suggests the regional economy has coped better with the pandemic relative to the other eleven ‘regions’ of the UK. Over the same period the 1% fall in the East Midlands was ‘best’ with Northern Ireland’s 3.9% contraction the ‘worst’; the UK decline was 2%.

For the 12 months ended March 2020 on a rolling 4 quarter basis, ESCoE has estimated that NW growth has dropped from 2% to 1.4%.

This ranked the NW second (previous ranking third) and suggests the region has marginally improved its position relative to the other eleven parts of the UK. Over the same period UK growth was 0.5%; growth in London (ranked first) was 1.8%; and growth in the East Midlands (ranked twelfth) was -0.6%.

ONS GDP to September 2019

Official ONS figures for an earlier period which reflect Brexit uncertainty rather than Covid 19 turmoil are, relatively, not so good for the region. Following its first publication of quarterly GDP estimates for the regions in September 2019, the ONS has now published its fourth estimate for the North West, 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 September 2019 with the same quarter a year earlier. These more volatile figures showed the NW contracted by 1.3%, down from -0.3% the previous quarter. This placed the NW eleventh (previous ranking tenth) out of the twelve UK ‘regions’.

London topped the table with growth of 5% whilst UK growth over the same period was 1.2%. The West Midlands was the worst performer and contracted by 1.5%, one of three ‘regions’ in the UK to suffer a decline.

In the same report, the ONS’s figures also highlighted that the standalone quarter to September 2019 was also poor for the NW but an improvement on the previous quarter. The North West economy contracted by 0.2% in July to September 2019, following a contraction of 1.5% in April to June 2019.

This placed the NW joint ninth (previous ranking eleventh) out of the twelve UK ‘regions. Four regions of the UK saw their economies contract but overall the UK grew by 0.5%.

Again London was top with quarterly growth of 1.4% whilst the East Midlands was the worst performer and contracted by 0.3%.

In this period, the NW’s best sector was water supply/sewerage with growth of 36.1% but manufacturing fell by 6.2%. Overall services grew by 0.6% but production fell by 3.4%, construction by 1.7% and agriculture by 0.1%.


More largely pre-pandemic data from the ONS showed unemployment in the region was 9,000 lower at 148,000 between January and March; the drop of 0.3% took the rate to 4%. At 5.4% the North East was the highest; Northern Ireland had the lowest rate of 2.4%, with the UK rate at 3.9%.

The South East had the highest employment rate at 80.2% which compared with 76.2% in the NW where 3.6m are employed; the UK rate was 76.6%.


The NW’s average property price increased over the month by 0.2% to £166,202. The uplift took the annual increase to 3.4%. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.2% to £231,855 during March, an annual growth rate of 2.1%.

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 feeding into the March figures will therefore reflect those completions that occurred before lockdown.

Given the closure of the housing market following lockdown the ONS has suspended its index until further notice.