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Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers has released new regional economic figures showing general improvements in areas including earnings and exports.

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers has released new regional economic figures showing general improvements in areas including earnings and exports, but continued differences in overall regional economic performance, underlining the importance of an active regional industrial policy.

Prepared using Office of National Statistics and other Government Department’s figures, the March 2001 edition of Regional Competitiveness Indicators covers 14 different economic indicators, and maps the economic performance of the English regions, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The indicators range from manufacturing productivity and research and development spending to levels of earnings, exports, investment and output by foreign owned companies, and numbers of VAT registrations (taken as a measure of business start-ups) and business survival rates.

Some of the indicators reveal that in 1999 GDP per head in every region was above £10,000 per head for the first time, however there is still a large gap between the best and worst performing regions.

Average earnings for full-time employees have increased in all regions. The four regions with the highest increase since 1999 were Merseyside (up 9.6%), the North East (9.3%), Wales (up 9.1%) and Northern Ireland (up 9.6%).

Manufacturing investment by foreign-owned companies – between 1994 and 1997 Scotland, the West Midlands, the North East, Wales, and Merseyside had the highest proportion of their region’s manufacturing investment made by foreign-owned companies, and Yorkshire and Humberside the lowest.

Latest available figures show that between 1996 and 1997 spending on manufacturing research and development fell in the North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humberside, the East Midlands, London, and the South East, with only the East of England, the South West, and Merseyside showing an increase. Two of the best performing areas of the economy – the South East, and East of England – were those with the highest levels of investment in research and development, whilst Yorkshire and Humberside and the North East were both below half the UK average.

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers said that whilst the UK overall was benefiting from hard-won economic stability, the figures showed the importance of an active regional industrial strategy to allow every region to prosper.

‘These figures show that there is much to be proud of in the economic performance of different parts of the UK, but they also show that we need to improve in a number of key areas – and close the gap between best and worst performing regions.

‘There are now more people in work in every region than there were in Spring1997, every region has experienced a growth in average earnings, and the number of companies exporting both inside and outside the EU has grown in almost every part of the UK.

‘These Indicators show that different parts of the UK have different strengths and weaknesses, and they underline the need for policies which will improve the number of new business start-ups and survival rates, boost investment in research and development and productivity rates, particularly in our economically weaker areas.

‘There are still unacceptably wide gaps in the performance of different regions. We need to widen the winners circle still further and ensure that economic prosperity brings real benefits, and increasing prosperity, in every part of the country.’

‘Our next steps must be to put in place the measures that will allow all regions to fulfil their full potential.

‘A key goal for Government must be to ensure that the benefits of economic stability and the resulting rise in prosperity are extended to every region and community,’ he concluded.

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