Business Finance: North-South gap widens

According to provisional figures published by the Office for National Statistics last week, annual growth for the UK was 3.8% in 1999. The South-East had the highest growth at 5.1%. The lowest was in the North-East at 2.3%.

Regional differences were shown to be even higher when London was separated out. GDP per head in London was 30% higher than the UK average. In Northern Ireland and the North-East it was 23% lower.

Trade secretary Stephen Byers said the government would continue to provide support for regional businesses in a bid to close the gap.

He said new university innovation centres – involving companies like BAe and Proctor and Gamble in the North East and Hewlett Packard in Bristol – would create hubs for growth in the regions.

He also said a new £75m incubator fund would support start-ups and growth businesses while a new early growth fund would make available up to #50,000 for business start-ups and SMEs.

Byers also singled out particular industries for support. He said the government has already promised special support for manufacturers through a new manufacturing advisory service.

Byers said: ‘Our regions were at the heart of the industrial revolution. They must now be at the centre of the knowledge-based economy of the future.’

And he added: ‘It is also clear that there are unacceptably wide economic gaps between regions. The challenge for government is to put in place the measures that will allow every region to prosper. This means that we must give particular attention and support to the needs of weaker regions.

This must involve allowing more strategic decisions to be taken at a regional level.

‘Earlier this month we announced measures to support regional economic development. Today’s figures show that the regional agenda will not go away and must be addressed in a positive and constructive way.’

One business body this week questioned whether the number of regional initiatives had brought real benefits to the regions.

But a spokesman for the Institute of Directors said: ‘While we recognise more can be done to bring genuine economic prosperity to the certain parts of the UK, we nevertheless support the government’s efforts in the regions.’

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