The State of Britain

The second lowest unemployment rate in the UK, two local industrial strategies rolled out and electric Minis in Cowley

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Unemployment in the South East of England decreased by 21,000 to 134,000 between March and May, the decrease of 0.4% to 2.8% meant that the region had the second lowest rate in the UK. At 2.6% the South West of England had the lowest rate and at 5.6% the North East had the highest rate in the country. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

The South East of England’s average property price increased by 0.9% to £323,745 during the month which uplifted the annual growth rate to 0.6%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.1% to £229,431 during May which reduced the annual growth rate to 1.2%.

Buckinghamshire has become one of the first regions to agree a local industrial strategy with the government. The 73 page document was developed by the Buckinghamshire LEP in collaboration with businesses and was signed off by Business Secretary, Greg Clark.

The strategy included; a long-term investment plan for Westcott Space Cluster to develop new research and development facilities, a new Screen Industries Global Growth Hub at Pinewood Studios to provide support to creative businesses, using Silverstone Park and technology cluster to stimulate high tech cross-overs, focusing on digital health, med-tech and advanced artificial intelligence.

Also Oxfordshire agreed its local industrial strategy with the government although at 99 pages it had a bigger document. Again the local LEP, Oxfordshire, collaborated with businesses and the strategy was signed off by Business Secretary, Greg Clark. With the aim of becoming one of the top three global innovation hubs by 2040, the plan outlines; supporting the existing science and technology parks with the potential creation of a new Global Business District as part of Oxford Station quarter, providing enhanced support for scale-ups especially from spin-outs from Oxford University, commercialisation of ‘breakthrough businesses’ IP, the development skills via an Oxfordshire Social Contract, and developing the Oxfordshire Digital Investment Plan

The two plans are part of the connected Local Industrial Strategies covering the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, a plan from the National Infrastructure Commission which is intended to safeguard the booming economies of the UK’s science and technology hub. The Arc means the large scale development of homes, offices and roads across central England and the re-opening of the previously closed Oxford to Cambridge railway. The other 2 areas are Buckinghamshire and the South East Midlands.

In its review this month of the 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) – the private sector-led partnerships between businesses and local public sector bodies that support local economic growth – the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons found that from 2015-16 to date; £9.1bn of taxpayers’ money has been awarded to LEPs through three tranches of Growth Deals. The East of England, with three LEPs, has received the least with £703m, London, with one LEP, has received £435m and the north of England, with 11 LEPs, has received most of the funding at £3.4bn (38%).

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government considers the population of an area as well as the strength of the LEP’s strategic economic plans and projects when deciding Growth Deal allocations. There is an overlapping LEP area in the region which means these LEPs will currently be unable to bid for funds from the Government’s proposed Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace EU structural funding after Brexit. South East Midlands LEP overlaps with Buckinghamshire LEP in the north of the region.

The South East Local Enterprise Partnership (which includes Essex (part of the East of England region)) has received £591m, the 3rd highest in England since 2015 whereas the Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP has received £74m, the 3rd lowest in England. Other South East regional LEP awards have been Coast to Capital £304m, Oxfordshire £143m, Solent £183m, Thames Valley Berkshire £143m and Enterprise M3 £219m. The Ministry does not evaluate the Local Growth Fund which means it has no understanding of what impact spending through LEPs has on local economic growth. The latest growth figures for the region from ESCoE showed growth at 2.0% which compared with the UK average of 1.5%.

The 24 Enterprise Zones designated in England in 2011 to improve economic growth had created 17,307 jobs by 2017 instead of the forecast 54,000 jobs by 2015. BBC-commissioned research conducted by think tank charity, Centre for Cities, also found that in two areas the number of jobs had fallen. Enterprise zones offered cheaper business rates, superfast broadband and lower levels of planning control. According to the research 1,137 jobs were created in the Oxfordshire Science Vale Enterprise Zone, the fifth best performing zone in England, and 110 jobs in the Solent Enterprise Zone which was less successful. The cost of the scheme is disputed, with The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government claiming £101m, £215m less than the BBC’s estimate of £316m+. The Ministry also disputes the methodology used in the research. A further 24 Zones were created in 2016 and 2017.

There was good news in Cowley, when BMW confirmed that production of its new electric Mini will start November. Deliveries of the first fully electric Mini will start in March 2020. Earlier this year, a BMW director said the company would have to consider moving car production out of the UK if there was a no-deal Brexit. Less positive in Reading, Thames Water’s plan to reduce costs has put 350 staff at risk of redundancy. A further 300 jobs could also go by not filling vacancies and through terminating contractor roles.