North-South divide too simplistic, says Blair

TALK OF a Britain divided between a deprived North and an overprivileged South is too simplistic, Tony Blair will say today as he visits the North- west to launch a report on the subject.

Half of London's boroughs are among the 50 most deprived local authorities, the report says. And while the home counties largely escape the worst social conditions the headline figures hide great disparities within all regions.

During a two-day visit, Mr Blair will meet representatives from communities in the North-west and will go on a walkabout in Manchester's newly rebuilt city centre. His report, Sharing the Nation's Prosperity, is expected to help guide Government policy on tackling deprivation. "I know there is still too much poverty, too much under-achievement," he said.

The report shows that of the worst 50 districts, 16 are in London, eight in the North-east, 11 in the North-west, six in Yorkshire and Humberside, six in the West Midlands and three in the East Midlands.

The most deprived local authority in England is Liverpool, followed by Newham, Manchester, Hackney and then Birmingham. Within those regions, the picture is mixed.

For example, Leeds is now one of Europe's more affluent cities, with per capita income 9 per cent above the EU average. South Yorkshire has fared much worse, with barely 75 per cent of the average.

In the South-east, unemployment ranges from 0.8 per cent in Winchester to 8.6 per cent in Thanet. In Hackney, more than one person in five draws Income Support while in Wokingham, Berkshire, the figure is just one in 30.

Some of the worst unemployment is on the south coast, in places such as Plymouth, Dover and Southend.

Mr Blair will cite the report in arguing that his Government is enhancing living standards around the country, not just in affluent areas. The national minimum wage, for example, has had the biggest impact in the South-west, in terms of the proportion of employees who have benefited.

But the Shadow Chancellor, Francis Maude, said the national minimum wage and high petrol and diesel taxes had deprived parts of Britain furthest away from markets in the South-east and Europe of competitive advantage.