The State of Britain

The NW economy ranked third, the region tops house price growth, and competition concerns on the West Coast mainline

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Ministers have called a halt to fracking following a report from the Oil and Gas Authority. The authority raised concerns about the ability to predict fracking-linked earthquakes.

Cuadrilla had already suspended work at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire after a series of tremors.

The effective moratorium will be maintained until new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity.

An assessment by the British Geological Survey in 2013 suggested there were enough resources in the Bowland resource across northern England to potentially provide up to 50 years of current gas demand.

On transport, West Coast Rail, a joint venture between FirstGroup and Italian firm Trenitali, will take over the running of the West Coast Mainline next month, replacing Virgin, which was barred from bidding.  FirstGroup also operates TransPennine Express which is Virgin’s only competitor on most of the northern part of the route.

The Competition and Markets Authority has raised concerns ticket prices could rise under the new franchise. The Authority said that on 21 routes, passengers would have little or no option but to choose a service run by FirstGroup. The Authority’s investigation into the new contract is ongoing.

TransPennine Express, has, however, unveiled a new £500m fleet of trains promising to increase capacity by 80% on routes in the North West. The investment over two years in the new Nova fleet will see 44 new trains run between Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

In September, a report by Transport for the North, found an increase in both late and cancelled services on TransPennine Express and Northern rail services compared with 2018. TPE blamed its worsening performance largely on weather events such as flooding and extreme heat.

Fewer than half of Northern rail services ran on time last month, the firm’s own figures have now shown. Only 45.4% of its trains arrived within a minute of their scheduled times between 11 October to 8 November.

Most commuters will put up with a short delay but cancellations for Northern are now at the highest level since late summer, with 5.2% of services abandoned, compared to 4.4% between July and August. Last month, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, mooted putting the company into public ownership if problems persist.

The Stats

Following its first publication of quarterly GDP estimates for the regions in September, the ONS has now published its next estimates for the North West, the other eight English regions, and Wales, for the year to March 2019. GDP figures have been available for the UK since the 1940s, for Scotland since 2002 and Northern Ireland since 2013.

The latest available figures showed the NW economy grew by 1.8%, up from 0.5% the previous quarter. This placed the NW sixth (previous ranking tenth) out of the twelve UK ‘regions.’

London topped the table with growth of 4.2% whilst at the bottom the Yorkshire and Humberside economy declined by 0.3%. Propelled by a drive to meet the original March 31st Brexit date, UK growth over the same period was 2.2%.

The ONS figures also highlighted that the quarter to March 2019 was far better for the region than the previous quarter. The North West economy grew by 1.0% in January to March 2019, following negative growth of 0.2% in October to December 2018.

In this period, the manufacturing industry grew by 6.7% and was the largest positive contributor to growth whereas education fell by 4.7%. Overall the services sector was the only drag on growth. The other three sectors, agriculture, production and construction, contributed positively.

Estimates published by ESCoE last month for the year ended September 2019, a more recent period than the ONS figures, ranked the NW third (previous ranking fourth)  with growth of 1.7%, which suggests the region has had a better summer relative to other parts of the UK.

Using this metric, UK growth was 1.45%. Growth in London (ranked first) was 2.32%, which compared with the South West of England (bottom) at 0.41%

More data from the ONS showed unemployment in the NW fell by 5,000 to 153,000 between July and September; the small decrease of 0.1% took the overall rate to 4.2%. Northern Ireland had the lowest rate at 2.5% with the UK rate at 3.8%. The highest rate was 5.9% which was recorded in the North East.

The South West had the highest employment rate at 81.0% which compared with 75.3% in the NW. UK employment was estimated at 76.0%.

In September, average earnings in the North West were up by £20 to £595 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £830. The lowest average earnings of £527 were recorded in Wales. In the UK overall, average earnings grew by 3.6% or by 1.8% after inflation.

NW average property prices fell by 0.3% to £167,683, which took annual growth to 2.8% which was the highest in Great Britain. In comparison, UK prices fell by 0.2% to £234,370 during September, an annual growth rate of 1.3%.