Y&H unemployment the highest in the UK, Channel 4 chooses Leeds and a bright future for East Yorkshire’s renewables sector

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Unemployment in Yorkshire & Humberside increased by 16,000 to 144,000 between November and January; the increase of 0.5% to 5.2% was the worst in the UK. At 2.9% the SW of England had the lowest unemployment rate in the country. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.9%.

In March average earnings in Yorkshire & Humberside decreased to £561 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £846 whereas the North East had the lowest of £523. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.4% or by 1.5% after inflation.

Yorkshire & Humberside average property prices fell by 1.0% to £160,420 during the month which trimmed the annual growth rate to 2.9%. In comparison UK prices dropped by 0.8% during March which cut the annual growth rate to 1.7%. The Yorkshire & Humberside market was also slower with the latest figures to September 2018 showing volumes down by 2%.

More positively there was a potentially game changing regional development this month with a boon in particular for Leeds city centre. Last year Channel 4 announced it was moving its headquarters from London and transferring 200 of its 800 staff. The broadcaster has chosen the Majestic building, the former cinema and nightclub which inspired the Kaiser Chiefs song ‘I predict a riot’ as its new HQ. Leeds beat shortlisted Birmingham and Greater Manchester to win the project; the second half of 2020 has been pencilled in for the move in date. The relocation could add £1bn and 1,200 jobs to the Leeds economy as other TV firms – UKTV, Wise Owl Films, Workerbee, Simplestream and PACT – have subsequently announced moving some or all of their operations to the city. In economic development terms the pump priming project could be significant. More generally Channel 4 aims to increase regional programming by £250m over the next five years.

There was also good regional news when Big 4 accountancy firm PwC said it had taken on 60 staff at its new Bradford office and that headcount could rise to 225. The full service firm which offers advice domestically and internationally took over office space on Godwin Street. There was also a positive development for Humberside after HMG announced that 30% of the UK’s electricity will be generated by offshore wind turbines by 2030. Siemens in Hull produces blades for the world’s largest wind farm under construction – off the East Yorkshire coast – and other firms in the city and in Grimsby are major suppliers to the industry.

Despite the positive renewable sector news, an unwelcome development in Hull came when a manufacturer of bedroom and dining furniture went into administration. Kingstown Group employed 280 people – on an 11 acre site in Leads Road – who were told there was insufficient cash to make redundancy payments. Setbacks to the region’s food manufacturers have come with reports that Freshcook is set to close a site in Lincolnshire. The firm said about 520 employees could be offered roles at other sites in the county. This month also saw more than 450 jobs at risk at Tulip’s Boston meat processing plant after it lost its deal with Marks & Spencer. More positively in the food retail sector there are plans for a £250m food and leisure attraction at Future Park near Knaresborough that will create 1,000 jobs. The attraction will be operated by Eataly ‘Eat Italy’, which runs a similar park in Bologna. It could open in 2022 and attract 3.5m visitors a year.

On regional rail transport, the blame game as to why six-carriage long trains at Leeds station have been delayed by two years continues between Northern and Network Rail. The longer trains were to be introduced at the end of this year but will now not enter service until late 2021. The delay is because longer platforms at Leeds will not be ready in time. Northern still plans to start phasing in its £500m fleet of new short trains from this spring, aiming to replace its thirty year old Pacer trains by the end of this year. The unsatisfactory state of the region’s railways has been highlighted in a report from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) which has claimed journey times on some routes are no better than in the early 1980s. Meanwhile Hull Trains – which operates services to London – hopes its £60m investment in Japanese-built Hitachi Class 802 will improve its service. The latest ORR figures for the last quarter of 2018 showed that 68.8% of journeys with Britain’s smallest rail company arrived on time, the lowest figure of any train operator.

On regional regeneration, a £1.5m grant from Scarborough Council will complement a £4.7m lottery grant which supports a £7m project to upgrade Scarborough’s South Cliff Gardens. The gardens are at South Bay which claims the title of the country’s first seaside holiday resort. The £4.4m grant which Wakefield Council won from HMG’s Cultural Development Fund in January will be deployed in turning the city’s market hall into a hub to help establish creative businesses. The market hall site – which closed last year – was going to be demolished but will now, the Council hopes, create 600 new jobs. It’s not quite Dallas yet, but Rotherham Council has dropped its objection to test drilling for shale gas at Ineos’s site in Woodsetts.

The British Library is planning a new base in Leeds and improvements to its site near Wetherby. The Wetherby operation is the home of the UK’s national newspaper collection; more than three centuries of local, regional and national newspapers.

The Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry, speaking at the Great Northern Conference in Leeds late last month, warned of creating a second ‘North-South divide’ between rural and urban areas if too much focus was put on cities. After the One Yorkshire devolution deal was ended by Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire, earlier in February, he said it was time for local leaders to rise to the challenge of brokering a new arrangement for transferring powers from Whitehall.

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