Commentary: South-east's lead is slipping

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The Central Statistical Office's Regional Trends confirms that the big turn away from the South-east is under way. The Eighties boom boomed most in the South-east, floating income (gross domestic product) per head up from 115 per cent of the national average in 1982 to a peak of 119 per cent in 1989.

This year's figures are as out of date as usual, but they show the South-east's income per head dropping back to 118 per cent in 1990. It is probably the beginning of a trend as regions with more manufacturing pick up.

The regional dimension has been crucial to the story of Britain's economy over the past 10 years, so fundamental have been the differences between housing markets, borrowing behaviour and incomes. Between 1982 and 1989, for example, the income per head of the richest region (the South-east) rose from 144.8 per cent of that of the poorest region (Northern Ireland) to 156.9 per cent.

Sadly, the CSO is still in the statistical stone age when it comes to providing useful information on the state of Britain's regional economies, despite the publicity generated by Regional Trends.

The most crucial lacuna is the difference between regions in prices for goods and services. All the figures are based on cash incomes without allowing for any price differences. Yet we know that a pound goes further in Liverpool than in London, and not just in the housing market. This is surely an area where the CSO's new head, Bill McLennan, should direct some of his funds.