Arguably the biggest economic news for the North East yesterday did not come in Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget.
The latest unemployment figures for the region showed a significant fall to a seven-year low. There are signs that employment prospects in the region are significantly improving.
Yet we have some way to go. The new rate of 7.8% may be significantly below the double-digit rates seen in the last recession, but remains well above the national average. We are still bottom of the regional table.
And we probably won’t be feeling a great deal more prosperous either, because yesterday’s figures also show that average salaries are not rising. The well-paid skilled jobs we need are proving elusive.
Mr Osborne’s Budget had few specific measures for the North East – though the widely-trailed help for the oil and gas industry is welcome. Lower prices at the pumps will help household budgets and businesses, but those in the offshore industry are suffering and any help is appreciated.
We are just a few weeks from a general election and so this was, of course, a nakedly electioneering Budget.
Mr Osborne’s intention was to hit the sweet spot for specific groups of voters – pensioners, savers, business owners, home owners. The Conservatives need these groups to turn out and vote for them if they are to finish as the largest party in May.
Labour’s central contention that the Conservatives are cutting too deep is one they will continue to pursue, though the latest analysis by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility slightly serves to dent the Opposition’s claims. Nevertheless, austerity will be with us for too many more years.
Elections tend to reward the party seen as the most economically competent. Most of the available polling indicates that is the Conservatives.
Will that be enough to cover the areas where the Conservatives are off the pace, such as the NHS? It won’t be long now until we find out.