Increased evidence of North / South divide?

There is increased evidence of a North / South divide even before the government’s spending cuts have been implemented.

A study by retail analysts, the Local Data Company, looked at the vacancy rate of retail outlets in town centres throughout Britain from January to June 2010. It found that, on average, one in seven shops is vacant, but in places in the north of Britain, almost one in three shop premises are empty.
Vacancy rates rose by 1% (from 12% to 13%) in the six months to June 2010. In London and the South it is much lower – in Hythe near Southampton, for instance, it is only 3.5%, as it is in Upminster, Essex. Further north, Altrincham in Cheshire has 30% of its shops empty, closely followed by Blackpool and Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

The study showed that of the 63 large shopping centres in the country, 10 showed an improvement in vacancy rate in those six months. Of the 400 medium-sized centres, only 73 had improved, the most northerly of them being Grantham, Lincolnshire.

The British Retail Consortium blames more fundamental causes than economic downturn, and said that recovery would not necessarily reverse the trend. The growth of out-of-town supermarkets means that people no longer use their high streets in the same way.

Further evidence of the split comes from the BBC, who are researching economic resilience for their The Spending Review: Making it Clear season. They ranked local authorities according to their ability to withstand changes in the economy. Middlesbrough came last – 324th,  and Mansfield and Stoke-on-Trent were next last. At the top, Elmbridge in Surrey, St Albans in Hertfordshire and Waverley in Surrey were considered to be the most resilient places.

The director of St Albans and District Chamber of Commerce, Mel Hilbrown, said the city’s main industry was knowledge-based, such as finance and consultancy. “It’s always been quite entrepreneurial as an area,” he said. “In the last five to 10 years, it’s had a high number of business start-ups.”

Middlesbrough’s Labour MP, Sir Stuart Bell said that the loss of major manufacturing industries like steel and shipbuilding in the 80’s were to blame for the divide. He said the government thinking that the private sector would step in to create jobs was a “fundamental” error. He added: “You don’t go from the public sector to the private sector, you go from the public sector to the dole queue.”

Other places in the bottom 20 include Redcar, Cleveland, Hartlepool, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

10th September 2010