The State of Britain

The SE remains the largest UK exporter, the region’s construction sector and labour market perform the best

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HMRC has published the latest regional trade figures which show exports and imports for 2019. Given the time period this data reflects Brexit uncertainty rather than Covid 19 turmoil. 

In the year to December 2019, the overall value of UK trade in goods exports increased by 2.1% to £346bn compared with the same period in 2018. The overall value of imports increased by 0.3% to £483bn.

There was a decrease in the annual export value in the SE along with five of the 12 UK ‘regions’. The SE’s exports decreased by 1.1% or £503m to £46.5bn which was 13% of the UK total.  

The biggest regional exporter remained the SE with Northern Ireland the smallest at £9bn. The best performer in percentage terms was London which added 17% with Yorkshire & The Humber falling by 6.3%.

There was an increase in the annual import value in the SE along with five of the 12 UK ‘regions’. The SE’s imports increased by 3.1% or 3bn to £98bn which was 20% of the UK total.

The leading regional importer was the SE at £98bn and Northern Ireland was the smallest at £8bn. In percentage terms London added 12% compared with Scotland which reduced imports by 7%.

The USA was the SE’s largest export market with machinery & transport equipment the best export. Most of the SE’s imported goods came from Germany with machinery and transport equipment the biggest import.


This month the ONS published data on regional services imports for 2017. The biggest component of services imported into the UK was £51bn of travel. This was 28% of the £181bn UK total imports of services.

The SE imported £26bn of services value in 2017 of which £7bn was travel. The largest importer of services was London at £60bn with Northern Ireland importing £1.6bn.

At a local level, the biggest importer of non-travel services into the UK was Camden and City of London at £14.5bn, almost double the next largest importer which was Westminster at £7.9bn. Of the 167 local areas, the Western Isles of Scotland imported the least amount, £21m, with Anglesey next at £31m.

In the SE, Berkshire imported £3.9bn of non-travel services compared with £92m on the Isle of Wight.

The data on services exports was released by the ONS last year which showed the SE exporting £45bn of services which compared with London at £117bn and Northern Ireland at £2.9bn.

Other data

The ONS has also published the latest regional construction sector data to December 2019 which again reflects Brexit uncertainty rather than Covid 19 turmoil. Compared with the previous quarter all parts of the UK recorded a decline with the SE posting a 0.9% drop to £6.3bn.

The biggest decrease in the UK was 4.6% in the West Midlands; the SE was best with the 0.9% fall. Within construction though 9880 new houses were completed in the SE, an increase of 26% on the previous quarter.

More pre-pandemic data from the ONS showed unemployment in the region was 13,000 lower at 91,000 between December and February; the drop of 0.3% took the rate to 3.0%. Northern Ireland had the lowest rate of 2.5%, the NE the highest at 5.6%, with the UK rate at 4%.

The South East had the highest employment rate at 80.1% where 4.7m are employed; the UK rate was 76.6%.

The SE’s average property price decreased over the month by 0.4% to £321,329. The fall took the annual increase to 0.4%. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.6% to £230,332 during February, an annual growth rate of 1.1%.