The State of Britain

The NW records the largest fiscal deficit in the UK, the region’s property prices jump and mini nuclear power stations in Cumbria

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In the ONS’s estimate of regional public spending and regional tax revenues in 2019, the NW had a deficit of £20.1bn, a lower shortfall than the £21.7bn recorded in 2018 but still the largest deficit in the UK. This compared with London, which had the highest surplus of £38.9bn.

On a per person basis, the NW’s deficit was £2,762, lower than the £2,988 recorded in 2018. London had the highest surplus of £4,369 per person whereas Northern Ireland had the biggest shortfall at £4,978.

The only areas of the UK to run surpluses were London, the SE of England and the East 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; the other seven 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 NW was £94.4bn or £13,560 per head, an increase on the 2018 figure of £92.7bn. 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 NW collected £74.1bn 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 NW increased by 6,000 to 154,000 between September and November 2019; the increase of 0.1% took the overall rate to 4.2%. Northern Ireland had the lowest rate at 2.3%, the North East the highest at 6.2% with the UK rate at 3.8%.

The South West had the highest employment rate at 79.8% which compared with 76.2% in the NW. UK employment was estimated at 76.3%.

NW average property prices jumped by 1.1% during November 2019 to £169,362, which took annual growth to 3.8%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.4% to £235,298 an annual growth rate of 2.2%.

On development, Rolls-Royce plans to install and operate factory-built mini nuclear power stations by 2029. The power plants can be mass manufactured and delivered in sections by road.

The firm is confident that mini reactors can compete on price with renewables such as offshore wind and that between 10 and 15 of the stations in the UK could be viable. Former nuclear sites in Cumbria would be suited to build the small modular reactors (SMRs) which are about 1.5 acres in size.

A £13m museum highlighting Blackpool’s role in British entertainment will be based within the Sands Venue Resort Hotel – the town’s first five-star hotel – on the Golden Mile. The regeneration project hopes to attract c300,000 visitors annually and create the equivalent of 40 full-time jobs. Funding has come from the Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund (£4m), from the Coastal Communities Fund (£1.75m) and the Lancashire Growth Deal (£1.5m) amongst others.

On transport, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is investigating Network Rail over its poor service on routes used by commuter favourites Northern and TransPennine Express. Network Rail owns and operates rail infrastructure in England, Wales and Scotland.

The ORR said the proportion of scheduled train stops made on time in the last 12 months up to 4 January by Northern was 55% and 41% by TransPennine Express. This compares to the national average of 65%.

Early in January, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced he was evaluating a proposal from Northern Rail for options for continuing its franchise after the minister said the firm had the finances to continue only for a number of months. Then he surprisingly followed through and nationalised the firm, which consequently threw the Transpennine franchise into sharper focus.

On HS2, the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd did not allow for all uncertainties when estimating initial costs the National Audit Office (NAO) has said. In 2015, HS2 was due to cost £56bn but a leaked government report suggested the total could reach £106bn. At this cost the decision whether to proceed or not will be taken at Prime Ministerial level next month.

On Merseyside, Jaguar Land Rover is cutting 500 jobs at its Halewood plant when it moves from three shifts to two a day. The factory makes the Evoque and Discovery Sport models and currently employs c4,000.

Administrators Deloitte have said 55 jobs will be lost in Alston, Cumbria, after they could not find a buyer for iron and steel castings producer the Bondshold Group. And in Nelson, Lancashire, packaging firm Mondi has announced plans to close its factory in the second half of 2020; 41 staff are affected. The plant creates bags, pouches and laminates for the consumer industry.