ECONOMIC FACTORS DIVIDE BRITAIN

Britain increasingly is becoming a nation divided, with the south becoming more prosperous while the north continues on its path of economic decline.

The reality of the situation is borne out in a Department of Employment job census published last Thursday that shows that around 94 percent of the 1.6 million net jobs lost since Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party took office in 1979 have been in the northern half of the country.The wealthy southeast of England, where 42 percent of the population lives, suffered only 6 percent of the decline in jobs.

Manufacturing industries, which are major employers in the north, have been at the forefront of the job losses, having reduced employment by 28 percent since 1979.

Worst hit has been Britain's traditional heavy industry - metal goods, engineering and vehicles - where employment is down by over 30 percent.

While some of this can be attributed to changing trading patterns and increased mechanization, which have affected similar industries worldwide, the decline has been more marked in Britain than elsewhere. Over the same period, for example, manufacturing industries in the United States cut their employment by 2 percent; in West Germany they cut jobs by 8.5 percent and in Italy by 9.4 percent.

An indication of the embarrassment the figures have caused the government is that while all the British press has picked up on the regional unemployment differences they reveal, a three-page Department of Employment press release on the census made no mention of the geographical variances. In addition, the figures, which are for the period up to the end of 1984, were published a year late.

Looked at in conjunction with other economic figures such as regional variances in output, house prices and earnings, the figures show that the gap in prosperity between the north and the south also is widening.

The contribution per head of population to the nation's gross domestic product has improved significantly in the southeast, but nowhere else in the country. GDP per head of population is 25.7 percent above the national average in London, 7.7 percent above average in the rest of southeast England and in nearby East Anglia 0.7 percent above average.

However, elsewhere in the country GDP per head of population ranges from 0.6 percent below average in Scotland, to 7.1 percent below for northern England and 11.1 percent below for Wales.

The differences are attributed to the proportion of the working age population who are actually in employment, and not to any significant variations in productivity between the regions.

House prices in the southeast have been rising on average by 20 percent to 25 percent a year, while in the north they have increased by no more than 15 percent to 18 percent annually from a much lower base, and in some areas, like Aberdeen, they recently have begun falling.

Apart from indicating the relative prosperity of the regions, the variance in house prices is a principal reason why the unemployed from the north cannot afford to come to jobs in the south, where house prices are easily two to three times as much.

Unemployment, currently just under 12 percent nationwide, long has been one of the big issues plaguing Mrs. Thatcher and creating one of the chief threats to the Conservatives' chances of winning the next general election.

Opposition party leaders have seized on the census figures as a linchpin for renewing attacks on Mrs. Thatcher's economic policies.

Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock last Friday accused Mrs. Thatcher of creating a "fractured kingdom" with a definite north-south divide.

Speaking at a civic ceremony in Tyne and Wear, an employment black spot, Mr. Kinnock attacked the government's tax cuts as a measure helping the rich at the expense of those in need.

Earlier in the week, but after the employment census was published, Mr. Kinnock and his shadow cabinet met and agreed to a 6 billion ($8.8 billion) job-creation program directed primarily at "the continent of unemployment that people call the north."

He intends to cut unemployment by 1 million during a Labour administration' s first two years of office, chiefly by pumping borrowed money into housing and construction, personal care and education and training programs.

Sources within the Labour Party suggest this program for job creation could become a key element of the party's strategy for the next election.

Gordon Brown, Labour Party regional affairs spokesman, has accused the government of "simply abandoning our traditional industrial heartlands" and pursuing a policy of separate development for north and south.

Employment Minister John Lee has tried to see some encouragement in the fact that since 1983 a third of the new jobs created in Britain have been in the north.

He also pointed out the government has funded four new Urban Development Corporations in northern England, which will spend around 3.5 billion over the next six or seven years providing opportunities for enterprise and assisting employers to create more jobs.

With additional funding for enterprise zones in areas of high unemployment and other spending on inner city projects, the government's projected spending is not that far removed from that promised by Mr. Kinnock.

Time, though, is an important element, since many of today's unemployed have been out of work for several year, and a large number of younger people have never worked at all since leaving school.

They are becoming increasingly disillusioned, and many may have lost the habit of, or never even had the opportunity to experience, the work ethic that Mrs. Thatcher and her followers believe is so important to Britain's well- being.

However, a few encouraging factors emerge from the census.

Jobs in Britain's important service industries rose by 433,000 between 1981 and 1984 (although two-thirds of these were in the southeast), full-time female employment went up by 320,000 and the number of self-employed people rose by more than 800,000.

Edwin Unsworth is a London-based reporter for The Journal of Commerce.

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