East begins the fight back to full economic fitness

Chris Nicklin, owner of Nxtep personal training, trains Barry Sanderson in his gym in Knutsford, Che

Figures for January caused some concern but the reopening of shops and hospitality should kickstart the East’s economy - Credit: PA

On the face of it this week looks to have been a very good one for the East Anglian economy.

Shoppers packed our high streets on Monday as non-essential retailers opened their doors for the first time in months.

And yesterday the Office for National Statistics announced that GDP had grown by 0.4% in February, following a 2.2% fall the month before.

But scratch beneath the surface and what do we see?

High streets are at the start of a long, hard uphill slog. After four months with the shutters down, one days taking are a plaster on a severed limb.

The same is true for hospitality. Hamstrung as they are by social distancing and only being able to open outside, breaking even will be a good result for operators over the next few months.

The February GDP figures also fell short of the forecasts of some analysts. While the construction, production and manufacturing sectors all saw positive jumps, the economy as a whole remain eight points below where it was pre-pandemic.

The Fightback East manifesto

The Fightback East manifesto - Credit: Archant

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Offering his analysis, Chris Starkie, chief executive of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “It’s positive to see that there has been some rebound in the economy in recent weeks.

"It is too early to say whether that will continue, but the reopening of many businesses this week is certainly a positive step.

“However we must look at this data with cautious optimism. A good deal of historic data indicates that the rate of company failure and associated unemployment bites harder as an economy comes out of recession, rather than when they are in the midst of it.

"So ‘growth’ metrics may look positive over the coming months, but several other metrics relating to employment and household income may paint a different picture."

The East needs to be a priority post-Covid: here's our manifesto

The East needs to be a priority post-Covid: here's our manifesto - Credit: Archant

In East Anglia we have a long history of comparatively low household incomes and shocking social mobility statistics. These existing problems have been compounded by a once in a century pandemic. 

No matter how good one month's worth of economic figures are, they alone will not change much.

Instead the proof will, as they say, be in the pudding.

In the coming months, continued growth — especially among hospitality and physical retailers — coupled with a smooth progression along the government's road map to recovery is what this region needs. 

As for what the LEP is planning to do in the coming months, Mr Starkie said: “We continue to work closely with partners to support businesses through this challenging time.

"New Restart grants, which support businesses which have had to close, are now available and we hope that the reopening of parts of our tourism, retail and hospitality sectors will help to boost consumer confidence.”

The next few rounds of reopenings coming off without a hitch and a strong summer season will be key for this region's economy. We're not out of the woods yet.