State of Region report reveals East of England is at risk of falling behind others
A new report has found worrying signs the region is falling behind others as it deals with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
The Eastern Powerhouse has released the first State of the Region report for the East of England.
The report provides analysis of the economy in the East and its performance in relation to other regions and nations in the UK.
It highlights negative wage growth, falling vacancies, widening skill gaps, decreasing levels of foreign direct investment, and an increasing trade deficit as factors for concern.
James Palmer, chair of the Eastern Powerhouse, said: “The report details what is happening in our region and offers an insight into what could be done to grow the economy.
“It is important to note that the East is the fourth largest and highest performing regional economy in the UK, with a gross domestic product of £193bn per year, 8.5 per cent of the UK’s GDP.
“There are, however, worrying signs that the East has slipped relative to other regions and nations.”
He continued: “The East is still dealing with the aftershock of unprecedented events including the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine while adjusting to the post-Brexit settlement and new trade agreements, which have made the cost of doing business in the East more challenging.
“This is evidenced by fewer new enterprises and rising business closures. There are real risks that rather than being ‘levelled up’ the East is falling behind.”
Earlier this month, the Cambridge Independent reported the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s latest economic update, which revealed that the county is at risk of missing its government target to double growth.
Former mayor Mr Palmer says the East needs a regional spatial strategy to align transport and housing plans over a 20 to 30-year period to “take advantage of the resources the East has to offer”.
He said: “In fact, it is time for a coherent regional strategy to connect important clusters of economic activity in our cities and towns and along our transport corridors. This will supercharge the East and distribute the benefits of growth more evenly across the region.
“Disconnected local plans have led to housing hot spots and the lack of high-quality public transport has exacerbated the problem. To maximise the potential of the Cambridge economy, we should be looking at a wider Silicon East.
“We must have an inclusive plan that takes advantage of the warehousing, manufacturing and distribution opportunities in Ipswich and Peterborough and maximises the science and technology brilliance in Norwich, Stevenage and Cambridge,” he said.
The report found the East has shown a slightly lower level of employment growth (-0.6 per cent) since 2019 compared to the UK average growth.
It also found that unemployment has started to rise while the number of job vacancies have decreased since 2019.
Crucially, it also found that despite some relative advantages, the East has been negatively impacted by the aftershock of macro events (Covid-19, Brexit, the war in Ukraine) which have significantly hampered economic growth and contributed to a cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Palmer added: “Rail routes must be improved, and housing delivered at existing and potential new railway stations. Rail travel between our major centres is too slow and hampers economic growth. Government commitment to upgrade Ely North and Haughley junctions is a start but not nearly enough. People in the East deserve the same investment into public transport as those in London, the current level of funding is unacceptable.
“The Eastern Powerhouse is working on regional policies for energy and life science. We understand the needs of our business members and the opportunities that simply having a regional specific policy can offer.
“The State of the Region report offers both hope and a stark warning. Government has – in the East – a powerful economy with room to grow and become stronger. The winner of the next election should take heed of what the report says and deliver a plan for this incredible part of the country.”
The report is the Eastern Powerhouse’s first annual economic monitor for the region and provides a baseline for future assessment.
The full report can be viewed at easternpowerhouse.uk.