The State of Britain

The UK avoids recession, London is the ‘regional’ star performer and Northern Ireland steals the South West’s low unemployment crown

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On regional stats, and following its first publication of quarterly GDP estimates for the regions in September, the ONS has now published its next estimates for the nine 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 figures showed that London’s economy grew by 4.2%, up from 2.3% the previous quarter. This placed the capital top (previously fourth) out of the twelve UK ‘regions.’

Yorkshire and the Humber was bottom of the rankings at -0.3%, and 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 showed that growth in London’s economy accelerated in the quarter to March 2019. The capital’s economy grew by the most in the UK, 1.2% in January to March. Contractions of 0.2% were seen in Yorkshire and The Humber and the East Midlands, although Wales was bottom with -0.5%.

Estimates published by ESCoE last month for the year ended September 2019, a more recent period than the ONS figures, ranked London top (previous ranking also first) with growth of 2.3%. Using this metric, UK growth was 1.45% which compared with growth in the South West of England (bottom) at 0.41%

More data from the ONS showed that unemployment fell between July and September; the decrease of 0.1% took the overall rate to 3.8%. Northern Ireland had the lowest rate of 2.5%. 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 71.2% in the North East; the UK rate was 76.0%.

In September, average earnings in Wales were down by £55 to £527 per week, the lowest in the UK. London had the highest average earnings of £830.

The biggest jump in earnings was £32 per week in the East of England. In the UK overall, average earnings grew by 3.6% or by 1.8% after inflation.

Welsh average property prices fell by 2.8%, the biggest drop in the UK over the month. The largest increase was in Northern Ireland where prices increased by 2.3%. UK prices fell by 0.2% to £234,370 during September.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 0.4% over the year to September 2019. The highest annual growth in England was in the North West, where prices grew by 2.8% and in the UK, Northern Ireland house prices grew the most, at 4.0%. The UK annual growth rate was 1.3%.

National stats

A recession was avoided when the ONS said UK GDP increased by 0.3% in the three months to September although there was a contraction of 0.1% in the month itself.

The services sector was the main driver of growth, up by 0.4%. Construction also performed well but production, especially manufacturing, was flat in the three months to September 2019. The trade deficit narrowed, mainly due to growing exports of both goods and services. Annual growth dropped to 1.0%.

GDP rose by 0.2% in the euro area and by 0.3% in the EU28 during the third quarter of 2019, according to Eurostat. Annually GDP rose by 1.2% in the euro area and by 1.3% in the EU28.

Key European economies remain sluggish; Germany has grown by 0.5% and France by 1.3%, with Italy at last showing some growth of 0.3%.

The UK labour market was largely unchanged, with the level of employment falling by 58,000 to 32.75m and the level of unemployment decreasing by 23,000 to 1.31m or 3.8%.

An increase in average hours meant that total hours worked was unchanged in Q3 to some extent offsetting the drop in employment. Average earnings grew by 3.6% in the year to September, compared with the previous figure of 3.8%.

The euro area unemployment rate was 7.5% in September 2019, with the EU28 rate at 6.3%. The lowest unemployment rate in September 2019 was 2.1% in the Czech Republic and the highest was 16.9% in Greece.

The UK inflation rate was 1.5% in October 2019, down from 1.7% in September. Key downward contributions came from electricity, gas and other fuels as a result of changes to the energy price cap. Further downward contributions from furniture, household equipment and maintenance; and recreation and culture, were partially offset by rises in clothing and footwear prices.

Euro area annual inflation was 0.7% in October 2019, down from 0.8% in September. European Union annual inflation was 1.1% in October 2019, down from 1.2% in September. A year earlier, the rate was 2.3%.

Public sector borrowing in October was £11.2bn, £2.3bn more than in October 2018.

This is the highest October borrowing for five years. Debt at the end of October 2019 was £1,798.5bn, 80.4% of GDP, a decrease of 1.1% on October 2018.