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Generally, the economy seems to be improving. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased slightly in the first quarter of 2015, although it is still 0.6% lower than before the economic crisis. There was a drop of £9.3 billion in public sector net borrowing compared with the 2013/4 financial year. However, public sector net debt increased by £83.2 billion compared to May of last year.
The risk of deflation has receded; the consumer price index rose by 0.1% in May 2015, mostly due to higher air fares, but also thanks to the rising cost of motor fuel and food. Average petrol prices rose 2.5 pence per litre and average diesel prices by 1.5 pence per litre between April and May of this year. These rises are significantly larger than those of a year ago. There was some good news for drinkers and smokers, as the price of tobacco and alcoholic beverages went down slightly. Average store prices fell again, with petrol stations seeing the largest price falls at 10.2%.
The UK is seeing positive trends in terms of employment figures. The number of people employed in the public sector has gone down, and the number of workers in the private sector has increased. Private sector employment has been growing since the last quarter of 2011. Compared with the same time last year, unemployment is down slightly. This is true across the country, with the North East and North West experiencing the largest decreases, while Wales saw the smallest decrease at 0.2%. 31.05 million people are in work, 114,000 more than from January to March 2015. Employees were also slightly better off, with pay in Great Britain increasing by 2.7%.
This seems to have had a positive effect on retail. The volume of retail sales in May was up by nearly 5% compared to May of last year, marking the longest period of continuous growth since May 2008. The amount consumers spent increased by 1.8% compared with May 2014. Household spending is also up slightly maintaining a longer term trend since 2011, although most of this extra spending went on housing. Sales in June were above average for the time of year, but growth was lower than in May, according to a Confederation of British Industry survey. This was largely because of a slowdown in the grocery sector.
Manufacturing is growing, with SMMT figures showing that 119,338 cars were produced in May. Thanks to rising domestic demand, 2.3% more cars were produced in May 2015 compared to May 2014. New car registrations have increased, with the first half of 2015 seeing the highest half-year performance on record. Commercial vehicle registrations have also increased. The growth in truck registrations demonstrates that customers and dealers are feeling more confident in the economy and general industry, as these expensive vehicles are used for commercial purposes.
If we turn to Europe, the economic news is also quite good. GDP has increased by 1.5% in the EU28 compared to the first three months of 2014. The first quarter of 2015 has also seen an increase in household consumption. The UK has the second lowest unemployment in Europe at 5.5% according to the Office of National Statistics, far below the EU28 unemployment rate of 9.6%.
Of course, at the moment, the crisis in Greece is casting a shadow over the Eurozone. The Chancellor has stated that the Government “will do whatever is necessary to protect the UK’s economic security at this time.” Although the British economy will probably not be directly affected by events in Greece, if there is an impact in the wider Eurozone that could be bad for British business.
(Sources: Eurostat, Office of National Statistics, Reuters, BBC, gov.uk, SMMT)