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March 13, 2014 8:40 pm

The unbalanced budget – winners and losers since 2013

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The March 19 Budget will be delivered against a background of broad economic positivity, but that tone may not sit well with everyone. Since George Osborne’s speech this time last year, fortunes have been mixed: the labour market has been slow to pick up in the East Midlands, the north has been hit by job closures and production of transport equipment has fallen.

Over the course of 2013 there was a 1.6 per cent increase in the number of businesses operating across the UK but different regions told very different stories.

Most areas of Wales and Northern Ireland, for example, saw net closures, as did almost the entire UK east coast. Major urban centres – Edinburgh, Aberdeen and London – were the only real exceptions to this coastal crisis.

London’s boroughs were among the best performing regions by this measure, accounting for a net creation of over 36,000 businesses, of which more than one in three was a small start-up. Southwark, however, was an outlier in this regard, losing more than 300 businesses in 2013.

GDP grew 0.7 per cent during 2013, creating 678,000 jobs along the way, but for parts of the UK the labour market is yet to pick up. For Strabane in Northern Ireland there was a nominal increase in unemployment between January 2013 and 2014.

Twelve of the 15 UK districts with an annual unemployment reduction of less than 10 per cent are in Northern Ireland, but at the other end of the spectrum improvements are more widely spread. The 24 districts where unemployment has fallen by a third or more cover seven regions, with one in Scotland.

Property prices offer little by way of surprise. London boroughs account for the top six UK districts according to average increase in 2013 – and make up 19 of the top 25.

In fact so rapid are the price rises seen in parts of the capital that comparisons between any district and the UK average are growing increasingly flimsy.

In 2012 the average property in 68 per cent of UK districts was priced below the UK mean – showing signs of significant skew in the distribution of prices towards the upper end – but in just one year this had risen a further two percentage points, meaning less than one-third of UK districts now account for all of those whose typical property is more expensive than the mean.

Northern Ireland may be lagging behind other regions in terms of job creation and house prices, but PMI figures provide reason for optimism across the Irish Sea.

Over the 12 months ending February 2013, purchasing managers in Northern Ireland saw output declining, but a year on this trend had reversed and the region had overtaken the northeast of England in terms of activity.

London remains the highest performing region by this measure and has continued to pull away from the rest of the UK. Its 12-month average activity is now 1.5 points above the UK average, up from 1.2 in 2013.

UK production has risen as a share of GDP by 2.9 per cent in the year ending January 2014, but the contribution of different sectors has varied considerably.

Food, beverages and tobacco now account for almost 12 per cent of all production, up from 11 per cent as consumer spending has rallied.

Manufacturing as a whole fared well in 2013, largely at the expense of mining and quarrying, and oil and gas. While these two sectors remain the largest by share of UK production, their relative contributions fell during 2013 – a sharp drop of 7.4 per cent in the case of oil and gas.

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