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Alan Wilson, Oxford Economic Forecasting
"Overall the southern part of the country is doing much better"
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The BBC's Steve Evans
responds to the latest forecasts
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Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
North-south divide 'getting bigger'

Tony Blair says the north-south divide is a "myth"
A group of leading economists has predicted that England's north-south divide is set to grow bigger this year.

The forecast by the Oxford Economic Forecasting (OEF) unit follows last year's attempts by the Prime Minister Tony Blair to play down the north-south divide.

The survey, commissioned by the Financial Times, shows that a slump in the performance of the manufacturing industry has widened the gap between regional growth rates.

The figures suggest the south-east of England will experience a 3.7% economic growth rate during the next year compared with 2.7% growth in the north-east.

The prime minister has argued that the north-south split was an "over-simplistic explanation of the problems that regional economies face".

"The real divide is between the haves and the have nots, whatever part of the country you are in," he said in December last year.

Strong growth in the south

The employment rate is also set to go up in the south, while the researchers are predicting little or no movement in the north.

Alan Wilson of OEF said in an interview with the Financial Times: "If one thinks of a north-south divide, a line running from the Wash to the Bristol Channel is the border.

"South and east of that line growth is stronger than north and west of it."

Trade minister Richard Caborn said that the government acknowledged there were regional differences but says the gap is narrowing.

"There is economic under-performance, we all accept that," he said, but he pointed out that "unemployment is falling faster in the north east, the north west, the west midlands than it is in the south east."

Ronnie Campbell, chair of the Northern Group of Labour MPs, fears that some regions have been left behind while Scotland and Wales have benefited from devolution.

"There are regions of this country that are just being ignored," Mr Campbell added.

Blair denial

In December 1999 Mr Blair attempted to dispel the image of a north-south divide when he conducted a two-day tour of the north-west of England.

Speaking during a visit to Manchester, the prime minister said the north-south split was "an over-simplistic explanation of the problems that regional economies face".

He said: "The real divide is between the haves and the have nots, whatever part of the country you are in."

But, in April this year, his views were rebuffed by an all-party select committee on education and employment, which said there was still a distinctive north-south pattern, with unemployment in southern regions still substantially below the average regional level.

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