Falling incomes and the growth of the internet are major factors for almost one in five shops in northern English cities being shut, experts believe.
Figures released by The Local Data Company (LDC) show that businesses in the North are struggling in terms of empty shop numbers.
The LDC states that the North-East is the worst area nationally for shop vacancy rates, with 18.8 per cent of shops empty in the second half of last year.
This represents a slight improvement on 2013, when more than 20 per cent of shops stood empty.
The LDC found that 20 per cent of North-East shops, or nearly 10,000 outlets, have been empty for more than three years.
In comparison, one in ten businesses in southern cities are standing empty.
London has the fewest empty shops, with 8.7 per cent of shop vacancies in the second half of 2014, representing a fall on the previous year of 0.4 per cent.
Nationally the rate of shop vacancies stood at 13.3 per cent at the end of last year representing a fall from a peak of 14.6 per cent in February 2012.
Mark Stephenson, policy and research manager for the North-East Chamber of Commerce, said:
“It is concerning to see the North-East at the top of this table.
“That said, many of our members in the retail sector have reported strong performance, so this is not a simple straightforward issue to resolve.
“It’s also worth remembering that incomes have been falling for many years and are only now just now picking up.
“The purchasing ability of the man on the street has been hit, which will impact on the high street.”
The North-West had topped the charts for the number of shop vacancies since 2008 but it has now been toppled by the North-East.
The list of top ten worst town centres nationally for vacant space contains Hartlepool at number three, with a vacancy rate of 27.3 per cent.
Source – Northern Echo, 04 Feb 2015
> ….or, at least, they may not want to but they need to in ordef to survive.
The North East has seen the sharpest rise in the country of underemployed people since the recession.
Thousands in the region are trapped in low paid or part-time jobs where they struggle to get by, unions say.
And figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed that 11.5% of those asked in 2013 wanted to work extra hours to gain more money compared to just 7.8% in 2008 – the biggest rise in the UK.
On average, each underemployed worker would like to work an extra 11.3 hours per week.
Business chiefs have today expressed concern at the figures, saying underemployed people can be almost as vulnerable as the unemployed when it comes to getting into financial difficulty.
> Really ? Who’d have guessed ?
Neil Foster, policy and campaigns officer for the Northern TUC, said:
“Six years after the global financial crisis, the lack of hours remains a major issue for one in nine workers in the North East.
“Average pay has not kept up with the cost of living in recent years and so increasingly people are looking to make it up through extra shifts and overtime, which as these figures show is not always available for everyone in our region.
“A prolonged shortage of work can cause hardship, reliance of high cost credit and greater financial difficulties as a result.”
Interestingly, the North East also had the second highest proportion of overemployed people – people who want to work fewer hours for less money.
As many as 9.5% of workers from the region said they were overemployed. However this is down from 2008 when the figure was 10%.
On average, in 2014, each overemployed worker would like to work 11.2 fewer hours than they currently do.
> Who were they ? Newcastle United and Sunderland footballers perhaps ?
Mr Foster added:
“Elsewhere some people want a different work-life balance with more time for things outside of work.
“The average worker in the North East puts in almost seven hours a week of unpaid overtime every week and reducing that would be a start.
> Unpaid overtime ? If you work overtime you should be paid for it or refuse to do it. Unfortunately too many people will meekly knuckle down. Now do you see why allowing the trade unions to be neutured was such a bad thing ?
“It could be that traditionally full-time professions are not pro-actively offering as much flexibility or that workers feel over-stretched.
“Such is the current level of job insecurity that many employees are worried about even raising the issue with their manager.
“Employers should look to create a climate where workers can talk honestly and confidently about what they want from their job.
“People’s lives are increasingly complex and it may well be more flexible working provides welcome opportunities for others and a happier and higher performing workforce overall.”
North East Chamber of Commerce director of policy, Ross Smith, said problems in the labour market remain despite improvements in headline employment figures.
“Both the North East unemployment and employment rates have improved faster or as fast as any other region and we have record numbers in work which is great news,” he said.
> We still have the highest unemployment, so that;s not saying much.
“However, these figures emphasise that we still have problems in our labour market.
“The high numbers reporting both over- and under-employment hints at the mismatch between many of the jobs on offer in the North East and the skills of people looking for work.
> So unemployed person, if you haven’t got the message yet – it’s your fault. You should have the right skills. It’s obviously not up to the company to actually teach you the job, god forbid !
“We badly need to address this to help businesses take advantage of the growth opportunities on offer, and for more local people to benefit fully from the economic recovery.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Jan 2015
More than one in three businesses who took on North East school leavers rated their recruits as unprepared for work, a new survey has found.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which is part of the Department for Business, asked organisations who took on 17 to 18-year-olds how they felt their new employees shaped up.
More than one in three employers in this region said the teens were “poor” or “very poor” – almost 20% more than the national average, and placing Newcastle and Sunderland behind the likes of Liverpool and Manchester.
When the question was asked of 16-year-old recruits, the proportion of dissatisfied firms rose to 38% in Newcastle.
A lack of experience of working life was the top reason cited by the city’s employers as the quality lacking from their 17 to 18 year old workers.
> Huh ? They’ve just left school ! How much experience do you expect them to have ?
That was followed by a poor attitude or personality, and a lack of the required skills.
> Lack of skillls ? Well, aren’t you supposed to teach them those skills ?
Poor attitude or personality ? Yeah, are you really the best judge of that, Mr Boss ? Not on the available evidence…
In response both the North East Chamber of Commerce and regional representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses renewed calls for greater links between industry and schools.
“There’s been a real debate for a long while about work readiness, and not just about school leavers, but about people leaving colleges as well,” said Ted Salmon, chairman of the FSB in the North East.
“Sometimes basic things are lacking – it’s not just about maths and English, but about the ability to interact with people, to write business letters or emails, and to get to work on time.
“And we can debate over what subjects are right to help people into work – but it needs to be part of a wider debate between business and education over how we can encourage more interaction.”
> What they really want is a conveyor-belt of disposable, low-wage slaves that already have all the skills even though they don’t know what job they might be doing.
Mr Salmon expressed concern at the apparent difficulties of speaking to schools in a non enterprise day context, with teachers nervous that closer ties with business could mean extra work for themselves or their pupils on top of the usual curriculum.
“Half the battle is showing teachers how what they already do can relate to business,” said Mr Salmon, “and just to even start that is so difficult because there are so many league tables and exam pressures.
“But when you go in and see the children on an enterprise day you see how switched on they are by it – so we need to break down that barrier and the frustrating lack of communication between schools and business.”
> Perhaps some teachers can see all too clearly where its all leading…
NECC director of policy, Ross Smith, agreed. “Links between education and business are essential to ensure we are producing young people who are ready to fill roles within the North East labour market and are comfortable in the working environment,” he said.
> 16-hour a week cleaning jobs ? Zero-hour contracts ? That seems to be mainly what’s on offer in my job searches within the North East labour market.
“Likewise, we must take the fear out of employing, training or simply giving experience to young people. According to our own 2014 Workforce Survey, businesses see this as costly, time-consuming and restrictive – this must be addressed.
> Or they could see it as an investment in the future. They always used to. But now, of course, its anything for a quick profit, including the workforce.
“A great deal of progress has been made in recent years, but we must continue to work hard if we are to make significant in-roads into addressing regional youth unemployment and potential skills shortages in key sectors in our region.”
> No, a great deal of progress has not been made – we’ve gone backwards, so that now everyone is expected to be fully trained before they start the job.
NECC’s own 2014 Workforce Survey actually painted a bleaker picture of what the region’s firms think of teenagers, with almost three quarters of employers reporting that sixth formers and college leavers were unprepared for work.
> Probably not as bleak a picture as what teenagers think of employers !
Just over half also complained that graduates were not ready – with the main reason given being a lack of work experience.
> Because they’ve just left school ! Good grief, it makes you wonder about the idiots running these companies… or perhaps not.
However, almost a third of the businesses surveyed admitted they don’t offer work experience placements to school pupils, with many saying that placements were too costly and time consuming, or that the requirements set by schools and colleges were too restrictive.
However 52% said they current offer apprenticeships for 16 to 24 year-olds .
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Dec 2014
A stark warning has been issued about the future of Northumberland, which has been described as a political no man’s land that is dying on its feet.
It was delivered by the Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery, after official figures revealed it to be one of the worst-performing economic areas in the whole of Britain.
Its perilous state was shown in the ‘gross value-added’ (GVA) statistics for 2013, which detail the value of wages and profits from goods and services produced.
For Northumberland, the figure is just £13,481 per head of population, the fifth worst in Britain, and dwarfed by the highest figure of £135,888 in inner London west.
Mr Lavery said at the root of the worrying figures was the fact that traditional heavy industries like mining have never been properly replaced, while the county struggles to compete with Scotland, which gets much more Government financial help.
“We have some great small businesses here but they are not on the same scale as mining,” he said.
“We’re a political no-man’s land. I really fear for the future. People need to be encouraged to invest here and it should be made a special case. It’s dying on its feet.”
His comments were echoed by fellow Northumberland MP Blyth Valley’s Ronnie Campbell, who said the figures showed how the county had been abandoned by successive governments of all colours.
“To put it right we need to be made a special case,” he said.
“We don’t want to be a basket case. They have to come up with a new Barnett formula which benefits this region.”
There had been talk of scrapping the Barnett formula, a local authority funding mechanism which favoured Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when drawn up 34 years ago to provide a boost to economies there, which were then struggling.
However, in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, in what was seen as an attempt to ensure a ‘No’ vote victory, all three major parties vowed to continue it.
Mr Campbell said as a result of the extra cash, Scotland can offer more inducements to new companies to invest there.
“It’s only 50 miles up the road. When the Barnett formula was drawn up, it was done to help Scotland, which was struggling. Now it isn’t and we are, it should be redrawn to help us.”
North East Chamber of Commerce Policy and Research Manager Mark Stephenson said:
“For many years we have campaigned about the lack of fairness of the Barnett formula, which seems to be having an increasingly negative impact on the GVA figures.
“Northumberland has many excellent businesses and a thriving tourism offer, but it is one of the counties that has been adversely impacted by the public sector cuts.”
Meanwhile Mr Lavery said: “When people talk about the North East they think of what Newcastle and Sunderland are getting, they think of Nissan and the Tyne and Wear Metro.
“But Northumberland is a million miles away from this.
“The best thing about this county is the resilience of its people.
“They will deliver if given the opportunity; they just need equal opportunities.”
Across the region the GVA per head stands at £17,381, compared with £40,215 in London. Only Wales, at £16,893, and Northern Ireland, at £17,948, have lower figures.
Tyneside performs best in the North East, with a GVA per head of £20,514, although this is still some way below the UK average of £23,294.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Dec 2014
A low pay epidemic is sweeping the North East, it is claimed, as new figures reveal one in four are paid below a living wage.
A report released today by KPMG estimates that well over a quarter of a million workers receive less than the £7.65 per hour experts say is needed for the basic cost of living in 2014.
The TUC claim that some businesses can afford to pay the living wage, calculated by Centre for Research in Social Policy, but are refusing to do so – and the regional economy is suffering as a result.
The North East Chamber of Commerce, however, says there has been progress and last week published a survey which shows 35% of firms increased workers’ pay above inflation last year.
Northern TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat called for a bigger commitment. She said:
“People deserve a fair day’s pay for an honest day’s work.
“But low pay is blighting the lives of hundreds of thousands of families in the North East. And it’s adding to the deficit because it means more spent on tax credits and less collected in tax.
“We have the wrong kind of recovery with the wrong kind of jobs – we need to create far more living wage jobs, with decent hours and permanent contracts.
“The fact is there are employers out there in our region who can afford to pay living wages, but aren’t.
“It is now time for all responsible employers to commit to adopting this standard, which enables workers to earn just enough to be able to live a decent life.”
Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, will speak at the Living Wage Summit at Newcastle’s Centre for Life on Thursday as part of a week of action on low wages by the TUC.
Newcastle City Council became the first to introduce a living wage and the authority boosted this to £7.55 in April, and South Tyneside has announced it is to follow suit. Councils in Gateshead, Northumberland and North Tyneside all set up working groups to explore the issue earlier this year.
Ms McKinnell, Labour’s Shadow Economic Secretary, said:
“People in the North East are really struggling with the cost of living crisis and with around one in four workers in our region paid less than the living wage, more must be done to tackle the problem of low pay.
“Finding ways to support and encourage employers to pay the Living Wage is a major part of that.
“It is fantastic to see more businesses and Labour-run councils in our region seeing the benefits of adopting the Living Wage, but it is important that we continue to demonstrate the value, both to employers but also to our region as a whole.”
The Living Wage Summit will also hear from local authorities, trade unions, voluntary and community agencies, such as the Child Poverty Commission and employers.
Speakers include James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, Sarah Vero from the Living Wage Foundation, Reverend Simon Mason and Matt Stripe, HR director for Nestle, who are a committed Living Wage employer.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Nov 2014
Fears that the region was “out of sight and out of mind” for the Government have been voiced after the latest jobless figures revealed the only place in the UK where unemployment was going up was the North East.
The overall national rate has dropped to 6.6% in the three months to April, the lowest since January 2009, causing Chancellor George Osborne to hail the news as an important step towards the goal of full employment, while Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “Britain is bouncing back.”
Yet the figures they were celebrating, published by the Office for National Statistics, revealed unemployment in the North East had risen 6,000 to 131,000 from February to April, putting the jobless rate here at 9.8%, again the highest in the UK and by some distance.
Chi Onwurah, Labour’s Newcastle Central MP, said: “They are talking like it’s mission complete but the fact is the North East is still seeing unemployment on the rise.
“It shows that the North East is out of sight and out of mind of this Coalition Government.”
The next lowest figures in the UK are Yorkshire and Humber with 8.2% and the West Midlands with 7.5%. Even Wales, which has suffered economically like the North East because of the collapse of traditional industries like mining, boasts an unemployment rate of 6.6%, the same as the national average.
And while the Government highlighted the news that the number of people in employment in the region had gone up 15,000 from February to April to 1,206,000, there was bad news on the wages front too.
The ONS figures showed the average salary of those in work in the North East has fallen 7.3% year-on-year with women particularly hardest hit with a 10.7% drop. Meanwhile the current CPI rate of inflation is 1.8%.
Mark Stephenson of the North East Chamber of Commerce concentrated on the rise in employment rates in the region and the fall in the claimant count.
He said: “It’s great to see North East employment estimates rising at the fastest rate in the UK for the second consecutive month. Hopefully we are starting to see a trend develop that will see our region make ground on other parts of the UK that experienced these rises earlier in the economic recovery.”
However he added: “The long term measures for employment and the claimant count are positive signs, albeit the total number of unemployed in the North East remains high – especially at the younger end of the labour market. The challenge isn’t abating and casts a shadow over the positive figures we see elsewhere.”
> Bloody hell – where does he buy his rose-tinted glasses ?
Source – Newcastle Journal, 12 June 2014
Stagnating North East house prices are undermining George Osborne’s Budget, MPs have warned.
Labour has hit out at claims the region is set to benefit from the Chancellor’s latest Budget, despite many of the measures being welcomed by the North East Chamber of Commerce.
As the Budget debate continues in Parliament, Hexham Conservative Guy Opperman spoke up for what he said were Government policies helping grow the North East economy.
He told MPs: “In the North East, the Help to Buy scheme is absolutely transforming the housing market. In Humbles Wood in Prudhoe, a housing development in my area, 90% of new purchases have been through Help to Buy. That must be good news.”
But his claim riled North Durham MP Kevan Jones, who quipped that the Conservatives are likely to adopt “Happy Days are Here Again as their 2015 General Election theme tune” but said people wouldn’t be fooled into believing everything was rosy.
He told the House of Commons: “I am not sure what nirvana the honourable member for Hexham lives in if he thinks that the housing market in the North East is booming. Average house prices here are still £5,000 lower than in 2008; that compares to an increase of about £77,000 in London.
“The honourable gentleman also fails to recognise that 16% of people in the North East are still in negative equity. The idea that somehow the housing market in the region is booming is wrong. We have a two-speed Britain – a booming South East and London, and a stagnating North.”
“The honourable member for Hexham described Hexham, which is a nice constituency, and the North East, but he is living in some type of parallel universe if he thinks that the North East economy is booming. Well-paid jobs in the public and private sectors have been replaced by low-paid zero-hours contracts.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 03 April 2014
Arts organisations have hit out at the London bias which is starving cultural bodies outside the South East of funds – and demanded a better deal for the North East.
Theatres, local authorities and actors’ union Equity told MPs that the concentration of resources in London and the south had to stop, not only because it was unfair but because it damaged the economy.
They issued the demand in submissions to a Commons inquiry looking at the work of the Arts Council.
It follows the publication last year of a hard-hitting report backed by senior arts figures including Melvyn Bragg and producer David Puttnam which warned that London receives £563.9m a year in culture funding from the Government and the Arts Council while the rest of the country gets £205.1m.
Latest Arts Council figures showed that arts organisations in the North East received £5.59 per head a year, compared to £21.33 per head in London.
And the study also found that the North East had received £86.22 per head in arts lottery funding since 1995, while Londoners received £165.
The report’s authors included Peter Stark, professor of cultural policy and management at Northumbria University.
Speaking at Westminster, he told the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee: “We have an enormous potential out there and the resources are in the wrong place.”
He added: “There is just something wrong that Westminster is benefiting to the tune that it is while County Durham is benefiting to the extent that it is, and something must be done about it.”
In a written submission to the inquiry, the North East Cultural Partnership, a body backed by 12 local councils and North East Chamber of Commerce, warned that unfair funding “has led to networks of artists and organisations in some parts of England, which, for all their strengths, are smaller and less powerful than we need”.
Funding bodies such as the Arts Council should look for ways to make funding decisions locally instead of in London, it said.
The Touring Partnership Ltd, which represents nine theatres across the country including the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, said: “The gulf between the current per capita investment of the nation’s funds for culture in London … compared to the rest of England … is unacceptable by anybody’s reckoning.
“Even when the funding to those key national institutions is removed from the analysis, the inequity remains extreme and, in the interests of basic democratic fairness, should be redressed.”
Actors’ union Equity highlighted the economic importance of the arts, telling MPs: “An independent Economic Impact Assessment of ten of the North East’s leading cultural organisations showed that £4.06 of GVA is generated within the region for every pound of subsidy received.”
However, it said it would have concerns about simply cutting funding for the south to shift the money north.
But the Association of British Orchestras, which represents Royal Northern Sinfonia at Sage Gateshead among others, warned: “We would respectfully point out that criticisms of the perceived imbalance between Arts Council funding in London and the regions is a distraction from the more critical issue of maintaining local authority investment in arts organisations when this funding is so under threat.”
The inquiry continues and MPs will present their findings later in the year.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 26 March 2014
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck today claimed George Osborne’s fifth budget would only widen the north-south divide.
She believes Osborne’s statement demonstrated the Coalition Government is “out of touch” with people in the constituency.
She said: “He tried to say that the economy is turning around, but households in South Shields who have seen their wages fall while prices rise month after month will see right through him.
“It’s clear whose side the Chancellor is on. Wages in London’s banking sector are rising nearly five times faster than the national average, and even then he won’t rule out tax cuts for the top earners. Meanwhile, those on low incomes are continuing to see their living standards fall.”
Coun Iain Malcolm, the leader of South Tyneside Council, labelled the budget a “gimmick”.
He said: “The budget was classic ‘smoke and mirrors’, full of pre-election gimmicks. They announced that they would cut inheritance tax for emergency service workers killed in duty – but this only applies to those leaving more than £325,000, so it is difficult to calculate how many would actually benefit.”
Coun Malcolm said new support to build 200,000 new homes was “simply nowhere near enough to resolve the housing crisis facing this country”.
The budget received a more positive response from a senior member of the borough’s business community.
Julie Lightfoot, managing director of South Shields-based Solar Solve Ltd, said: “As a local family-owned business who exports 85 per cent of our turnover, it’s encouraging that the Government is supporting British manufacturers by introducing a £7bn package to cut energy bills
“Although we aren’t an intensive energy user, every little saving helps, although we’ll have to wait and see what the actual savings will be. However, it’s nice to know that half of the firms that will benefit the most by cuts in manufacturing costs are in the north of England.”
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn said: “This is a government that has pushed down living standards to such an extent it has left working people £1,600 a year worse off.
“Osborne and the Tories only stand up for the privileged few.”
Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, said: “The Chancellor should have had the courage of his convictions and stood by his support of a £7 minimum wage. Moving to the Living Wage is the best way to raise tax revenue and put money into people’s pockets. It would boost consumer confidence and increase spending in local shops and businesses.”
North East Chamber of Commerce policy director Ross Smith said: “This was a sensible budget, and the conditions within which North East businesses can continue their strong contribution to UK growth have been strengthened by these announcements.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 21 March 2014
The jobless total has fallen again in South Tyneside, reversing last month’s upward trend.
A total of 5,661 people in the borough claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in February, compared with 5,826 the previous month.
This means 165 fewer people on the dole locally, reducing the percentage of the local working age population claiming JSA from 6.1 per cent to 6.0 per cent.
> Wow ! 0.1% ! Though I notice there’s no mention of whether that figure includes those sanctioned… I suspect it does.
However, youth unemployment across the borough remains stubbornly high, with 1,500 people aged between 18 and 24 claiming JSA.
And the youth unemployment figure in South Tyneside is 11.6 per cent, compared with eight per cent for the North East as a whole.
Last month’s rise in the local claimant count was blamed on the end of seasonal employment over the festive period.
Coun Michael Clare, South Tyneside Council’s lead member for regeneration and economy, said: “This is welcome news to see the jobless figures reduce for last month, getting everything back on track after the recent seasonal rise, due to the end of hundreds of temporary festive contracts.
“The council is continuing to work closely with its partners to generate practical and informative opportunities for both apprentices and jobseekers in the borough.”
Across the North East, unemployment stands at 125,000, a fall of 8,000 over the last quarter, while the regional claimant count is 70,300, a reduction of 1,700 between January and February.
Mark Stephenson, manager of policy and research for the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC), said: “The North East has improved on all measures within the labour market between November 2013 and January 2014, which is to be welcomed.
“This continues an upward trend, in particular for employment and claimant count figures, which have been heading steadily in the right direction for several quarters.”
But he added: “However, the North East unemployment rate is still the highest in the country, which has to be a focus for policy makers moving forward.”
Nationally, unemployment in the UK fell by 63,000 to 2.33 million in the three months to January 2014.
Source – Shields Gazette, 20 March 2014