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June 10, 2013 7:42 pm
Economic recovery seems to be gathering pace across the UK, not just in the capital. Yorkshire and the Humber had the fastest rise in business activity last month, followed by Wales, London and northwest England, according to the Lloyds TSB regional purchasing managers’ index. Only Northern Ireland was still negative.
Does that mean the coalition’s elusive aim of rebalancing the economy, with faster growth outside London and the southeast, is starting to be realised? It is too early to tell. The capital, while not pulling ahead inexorably, is still growing faster than the UK average.
London is not invulnerable: its gross value added per head slipped from 174.1 per cent of the UK average in 2009 to 170.7 in 2011, having previously soared from 156.8 in 1997. But if you take the five years since the financial crisis in 2007, its share of output has grown, despite the City’s troubles.
To cite another measure, London accounted for almost half the UK’s rise in employment of 434,000 people in the year to January-March.
The gap is vast. The UK has by far the widest economic disparity of any EU country between its strongest and weakest areas, equivalent to 260 per cent of EU per capita gross domestic product. Output per head in inner London is more than four times that of Cornwall, the lowest subregion. Inner London has by a long way the highest GDP per head in the EU, ahead of Luxembourg, Brussels and Hamburg.
The government’s aim is not to hold London back, as in the 1960s. The hope is to see economic growth strengthen outside the capital. It is pleasing that the nascent recovery appears broad-based.
The gap between London and other regions widened sharply in the decade before the crisis. I suspect the best we can hope for is for it not to grow much further over the next decade.
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Three northern councils have joined forces to save science museums under threat of closure because of spending cuts. That seems a sensible move: it is better to fight together than to be set one against another.
The Science Museum Group, which runs the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, National Railway Museum in York and National Media Museum in Bradford – as well as London’s Science Museum – fears it will have to close one of the northern trio if there is a further 10 per cent cut in funding in the 2015-16 government spending round.
The leaders of Manchester, York and Bradford councils said in a joint statement: “It would be unthinkable even to consider closing national museums, like the Victoria and Albert or the National History Museum, in London. Why then does it appear to be acceptable to discuss potential closures of national museums in northern cities?”
Even if a campaign manages to save the museums this time, with public spending cuts set to continue until 2020 the future for many regional arts organisations and museums looks bleak. They face a double whammy of central and local government budget cuts. They also have a hard job winning private sponsorship, which goes mostly to the capital.
If institutions have to close, should the London ones be sacrosanct?
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Rugby league’s switch from winter to summer seems to be damaging cricket, traditionally strong at club level in northern England. An amateur rugby coach in Wigan, Lancashire, told me he had three players in his team who had been forced to choose between the two sports: they chose rugby.
One factor behind poor ticket sales for last month’s cricket Test match at Headingley between England and New Zealand was that three Yorkshire teams were playing in Super League’s “magic weekend” in Manchester, including Leeds Rhinos.
I appreciate that rugby league’s authorities must do what they think is best for their game, but it seems an unfortunate conflict. Perhaps cricket should switch to winter. This spring has been so cold, there seems little difference.
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