The State of Britain

The South East records the second lowest unemployment rate in the UK and sees household incomes increase the most outside London

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Unemployment in the South East decreased by 5,000 to 143,000 between February and April. The drop of 0.1% to 3.0% meant the region had the joint second lowest rate in the country. At 2.7% and 5.7% the SW of England and the North East had the lowest and highest unemployment rates in the country. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

South East average property prices fell by 0.1% to £318,727 during the month which meant annually prices dropped by 0.8%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.7% to £228,903 during April which held the annual growth rate at 1.4%.

According to the latest figures from the ONS, the South East had the joint biggest increase in household incomes outside London between 2016 and 2017. The uplift of 1.3% beat all the other regions of the UK except the North East, household incomes in London grew by 2.2% but in Yorkshire they fell by 0.2%. Nottingham had the UK’s lowest gross disposable household income (wages or benefits) of £12,445. The UK average is £19,514 per household with London borough Kensington and Chelsea recording household income over £60,000 and a growth rate of 4.9% from the previous year. The South East had the second highest gross disposable household income in the UK of £22,568.

On jobs, the South East looks set to lose out following the announcement of restructuring plans at two finance sector blue chips. M&G Prudential is closing four English offices and uplifting its headcount in Scotland by 800 over the next six years. The firm is expanding its presence in Stirling and Edinburgh where staff from the Reading office will be encouraged to relocate. Insurer Aviva, has said it will cut 1,800 jobs worldwide over the next three years in order to reduce costs. Aviva has 16,000 employees in the UK with offices in Dorking and Eastleigh.

Outsourcing firm Capita, which runs Southern Water’s call centres, has signed a £30m five-year deal to handle other roles including billing and customer correspondence. The deal means that the majority of the 220 customer service staff at offices in Worthing and Falmer will be transferred to Capita, which has offices in Rotherham and Bangalore. Southern Water had started a 45-day consultation about the transfer of the work.

A restructuring at Portsmouth University could see the equivalent of 34 full time posts cut in the faculty of science which would affect up to 65 people. The faculty has about 400 staff in total. And in Oxford, the firm of well-known fund manager Neil Woodford is planning redundancies after investors pulled billions of pounds from his flagship fund. The cuts are expected to affect a small number of support staff.

A Surrey County Council planning meeting to consider drilling at four oil wells near Horley has been cancelled for the third month in a row. The application by an oil exploration firm is for the retention and extension of the existing well site including the drilling of four new hydrocarbon wells and one water reinjection well. The project also includes ancillary development to enable the production of hydrocarbons from six wells for a period of 25 years.

On transport, two of South Western Railway’s Class 442 trains or ‘plastic pigs’ are back in service after a £500,000 per carriage refurbishment. The 1980s rolling stock were due to be brought back into service last month but were withdrawn due to a safety problem with the door locks. The two mothballed trains were refurbished at Eastleigh and Bournemouth in Dorset where a further 16 trains are currently being worked on.

In the Solent, a Canadian investment firm has bought a 50% share in Isle of Wight ferry operator Wightlink. Fiera Infrastructure, the Toronto-based company, has acquired the stake for an undisclosed sum from Basalt Infrastructure Partners which was previously known as Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Partners. Wightlink’s new £30m hybrid-power ferry Victoria of Wight entered service last August which was welcome after four breakdowns on other vessels last year. Wightlink has provided ferry services to and from the island for 160 years and operates six ferries and two catamarans on three routes serving 4.5m passengers and running more than 45,000 crossings annually.