Voters in the North believe the economy is getting better despite continuing high levels of unemployment, according to the latest opinion polls.
The outlook is bright, with 50% of voters in the North of England believing the general economic condition of the country will improve over the next 12 months and just 23% predicting it will get worse.
But the survey, by leading pollsters Ipsos Mori, also suggests that optimism about the state of the economy isn’t leading to a surge in support for the Government parties – with the Liberal Democrats slipping into fifth place behind UKIP and the Green Party.
Currently, 12% of voters in the region say they plan to back the anti-EU party led by Nigel Farage in next year’s General Election.
Another 8% say they will vote green and just 7% plan to back the Liberal Democrats.
Labour is in the lead with 39% of the vote while 34% say they will back the Conservatives.
Voters are optimistic about the future despite stubbornly high unemployment in the North East, with latest figures showing it is the only region where unemployment is still rising.
The number of unemployed people in the region rose by 5,000 over the past three months to 135,000 people, an unemployment rate of 10.1%.
However, the number of people in work also rose by 30,000 over three months. The number of “economically inactive” people in the region, who are neither in work nor looking for work, fell by 31,000 over three months.
Business leaders have focused on the positive figures, with the North East Chamber of Commerce describing them as “excellent news”.
North East MPs have warned that the Government is failing to help the region’s economy grow.
Speaking in the House of Commons, former North East Regional Minister Nick Brown, Labour MP for Newcastle East, renewed calls for the Government to bring back the regional posts and pointed out that Portsmouth had been given its own minister, Energy Minister Michael Fallon, after it suffered job losses in its shipyards.
A powerful Commons committee has also criticised the Government’s regional economic development schemes, which include the Regional Growth Fund and Enterprise Zones such as the North Eastern Enterprise Zone, which covers 115 hectares at ten sites around the Port of Blyth, on the North Bank of the River Tyne and adjacent to the A19, south of the Nissan plant in Sunderland.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said: “Despite the large sums available for promoting economic growth locally, little money has actually reached businesses. Of the £3.9bn that has been allocated in total to these initiatives, only just under £400m had made it to local projects by the end of 2012-13.”
Ministers have previously admitted that much of the Regional Growth Fund money earmarked for North East firms has not yet been distributed.
In round three, announced in October 2012, £113m was allocated in the North East – but just £44m has been received so far.
The Journal’s own Let’s Grow fund has a much better record in distributing money. Of £30m handed to the fund two years ago, £25m has been handed out to firms.