“The Midlands and the North of England are more exposed to Brexit than any other region in Europe”

The St George’s flag flies over Teesside. Image: Getty.

The very areas of the UK which voted Leave in June 2016 are likely to be the ones hardest hit by Brexit. Our research on the likely economic consequences of leaving the European Union on different regions and industries is consistent with the recently leaked government analysis which suggests that London will be one of the areas least hit in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The north-east of England, meanwhile, will be one of the worst affected.

An important element here is that these regions (and the sectors of the economy based there) have little representation in the Brexit negotiations and rarely figure in media discussions. When it comes to the potential impact of Brexit, the most prominent stories are those with underlying political or business interests. For example, the case for special treatment of particular industries after Brexit tends to revolve around financial services, automobile and aerospace firms.

On the one hand this is because these industries are widely understood as critical for the UK economy. But it’s worth noting that these industries also have strong lobbying power and access to government policymakers. In contrast, many other parts of the UK economy do not. Our analysis suggests that, in reality, it is many of the less high-profile sectors – and the regions where they are located – that could be the most exposed to Brexit.

We examined the extent to which British industries depend on trade with the EU. On the basis of an analysis of global trade patterns across 43 countries and 54 industries, we were able to calculate a Brexit risk-exposure index.

We did this for each UK sector under a “no deal” Brexit scenario in which much of UK trade faces severe disruptions and impediments. We also put together a “hyper-competitive” scenario in which UK industries can rapidly adapt and mitigate against the effects of losing single market access.

In our analysis, an industry’s exposure to Brexit is defined by the extent it is dependent on products or services that cross a UK-EU border at least once. We calculated exposure levels for different industries. They indicate how much the industry has to restructure its supply chains and employees to mitigate against the losses caused by reduced post-Brexit trade and movement with the EU. This gives us a picture of which industries are likely to be hit hardest by a no-deal Brexit and which ones will most likely remain virtually unaffected.

Deal or no deal

Across the UK, the results for a no-deal Brexit scenario show:

  • More than 2.5m jobs are directly at risk.
  • Almost £140bn of UK economic activity annually is directly at risk.
  • Many important manufacturing and primary industries are at risk, but so are many service industries – not just financial services.
  • Many of these services are not only exported directly to EU countries, but are also sold to UK manufacturing firms who then export to the EU.
  • Workers in the jobs at risk are on average slightly more productive than the average British worker – so Brexit is likely to exacerbate the UK’s productivity problems.

The findings show that, in 15 out of 54 industries, more than 20 per cent (and up to 36 per cent) of economic activity is at risk from Brexit. Industries include fisheries, chemicals and motor vehicle manufacturing.

GDP exposure to Brexit of European regions. Image: Chen et al (2018).

The industries facing the highest risks overall, and likely to be the hardest hit by a no-deal Brexit, are service industries such as professional, scientific, administrative and technical services. Others at high risk include the wholesale trades, legal and accounting services, retail trade, warehousing, land transport services, computer programming, and activities that support financial services. These are all industries which are dissipated across the wider economy and have very little structured lobbying power or media profiles.

Alternatively, in a “hyper-competitive scenario” – where UK industries can rapidly adjust to life outside the single market by sourcing parts in the UK that are currently sourced from the EU – our findings suggest that increases in UK employment and GDP could be about one-third of the losses in a no-deal scenario. So the risks for the UK would be much less in this scenario.

But current UK productivity figures suggest that most of the UK economy is nowhere near being hyper-competitive, so this case appears to be largely unrealistic.

Sector and region inequality

Our research also found that financial services is one of the least vulnerable sectors to Brexit with an exposure level of 8 per cent of its GDP being at risk. This is still significant, but it is low in comparison to many other sectors – largely because the financial services sector is already highly globalised and therefore displays a low dependence on EU markets.

Brexit vote map. Image: Chris Green.

Instead of financial services, greater emphasis should be placed on helping other, much more exposed sectors. Those that are likely to be the hardest hit by a no-deal Brexit are a range of other services industries. But these are parts of the economy which don’t lobby Westminster and rarely get the attention they need.

Our other analyses also show that it is the Midlands and the North of England which are by far the most vulnerable. They are more exposed to Brexit than any other region in Europe. The reason is that the Midlands and north of England are much more dependent on EU markets for their trade than London, the South East or Scotland.

As such, in the UK-EU negotiations there is no real representation from either the most exposed sectors or the most exposed regions. Instead, the focus of government discussions tends to be on those sectors and regions which are actually the least exposed parts of the UK economy. This means that whatever is finally negotiated is unlikely to alleviate the effects of Brexit on the vast majority of the UK.

 


Raquel Ortega-Argilés, Chair in Regional Economic Development, University of Birmingham and Philip McCann, Chair in Urban and Regional Economics, University of Sheffield.

The ConversationThis article was published in conjunction with the UK in a Changing Europe initiative. Wen Chen, Bart Los, Mark Thissen and Frank Van Oort were co-investigators on the research mentioned.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

“Stop worrying about hairdressers”: The UK government has misdiagnosed its productivity problem

We’re going as fast as we can, here. Image: Getty.

Gonna level with you here, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan of schadenfreude, so learning that it the government has messed up in a previously unsuspected way gives me this sort of warm glow inside. On the other hand, the way it’s been screwing up is probably making the country poorer, and exacerbating the north south divide. So, mixed reviews really.

Here’s the story. This week the Centre for Cities (CfC) published a major report on Britain’s productivity problem. For the last 200 years, ever since the industrial revolution, this country has got steadily richer. Since the financial crash, though, that seems to have stopped.

The standard narrative on this has it that the problem lies in the ‘long tail’ of unproductive businesses – that is, those that produce less value per hour. Get those guys humming, the thinking goes, and the productivity problem is sorted.

But the CfC’s new report says that this is exactly wrong. The wrong tail: Why Britain’s ‘long tail’ is not the cause of its productivity problems (excellent pun, there) delves into the data on productivity in different types of businesses and different cities, to demonstrate two big points.

The first is that the long tail is the wrong place to look for productivity gains. Many low productivity businesses are low productivity for a reason:

The ability of manufacturing to automate certain processes, or the development of ever more sophisticated computer software in information and communications have greatly increased the output that a worker produces in these industries. But while a fitness instructor may use a smartphone today in place of a ghetto blaster in 1990, he or she can still only instruct one class at a time. And a waiter or waitress can only serve so many tables. Of course, improvements such as the introduction of handheld electronic devices allow orders to be sent to the kitchen more efficiently, will bring benefits, but this improvements won’t radically increase the output of the waiter.

I’d add to that: there is only so fast that people want to eat. There’s a physical limit on the number of diners any restaurant can actually feed.

At any rate, the result of this is that it’s stupid to expect local service businesses to make step changes in productivity. If we actually want to improve productivity we should focus on those which are exporting services to a bigger market.  There are fewer of these, but the potential gains are much bigger. Here’s a chart:

The y-axis reflects number of businesses at different productivities, shown on the x-axis. So bigger numbers on the left are bad; bigger numbers on the right are good. 

The question of which exporting businesses are struggling to expand productivity is what leads to the report’s second insight:

Specifically it is the underperformance of exporting businesses in cities outside of the Greater South East that causes not only divergences across the country in wages and standards of living, but also hampers national productivity. These cities in particular should be of greatest concern to policy makers attempting to improve UK productivity overall.

In other words, it turned out, again, to the north-south divide that did it. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? This is my shocked face.

The best way to demonstrate this shocking insight is with some more graphs. This first one shows the distribution of productivity in local services business in four different types of place: cities in the south east (GSE) in light green, cities in the rest of the country (RoGB) in dark green, non-urban areas in the south east in purple, non-urban areas everywhere else in turquoise.

The four lines are fairly consistent. The light green, representing south eastern cities has a lower peak on the left, meaning slightly fewer low productivity businesses, but is slightly higher on the right, meaning slightly more high productivity businesses. In other words, local services businesses in the south eastern cities are more productive than those elsewhere – but the gap is pretty narrow. 

Now check out the same graph for exporting businesses:

The differences are much more pronounced. Areas outside those south eastern cities have many more lower productivity businesses (the peaks on the left) and significantly fewer high productivity ones (the lower numbers on the right).

In fact, outside the south east, cities are actually less productive than non-urban areas. This is really not what you’d expect to see, and no a good sign for the health of the economy:

The report also uses a few specific examples to illustrate this point. Compare Reading, one of Britain’s richest medium sized cities, with Hull, one of its poorest:

Or, looking to bigger cities, here’s Bristol and Sheffield:

In both cases, the poorer northern cities are clearly lacking in high-value exporting businesses. This is a problem because these don’t just provide well-paying jobs now: they’re also the ones that have the potential to make productivity gains that can lead to even better jobs. The report concludes:

This is a major cause for concern for the national economy – the underperformance of these cities goes a long way to explain both why the rest of Britain lags behind the Greater South East and why it performs poorly on a

European level. To illustrate the impact, if all cities were as productive as those in the Greater South East, the British economy would be 15 per cent more productive and £225bn larger. This is equivalent to Britain being home to four extra city economies the size of Birmingham.

In other words, the lesson here is: stop worrying about the productivity of hairdressers. Start worrying about the productivity of Hull.


You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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