FIGURES revealing how wages are falling further behind on Merseyside are fresh evidence of the North-South divide, it was claimed last night.
Gross weekly earnings in the area have risen by just £83.20 since Tony Blair became Prime Minister - little over half the £144 increase in London.
The average increase across Great Britain between 1997 and 2002 was £97.10, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Workers in the South East (£114.20), the East (£97.20) and the West Midlands (£89.50) all enjoyed much bigger gains than their counterparts on Merseyside.
Figures for the rest of the North West were only available between 1999 and 2002, when the increase was £54.20.
The Liberal Democrats have seized on the statistics as proof of the way the "two speed" economy had resulted in a boom in the South, but economic stagnation in the North.
Paul Holmes, the Lib Dem work spokesman, said the Office of National Statistics survey revealed a worrying "snapshot" of the economy under Labour.
He said: "The Government has failed to use the strong period of growth to deal with the lack of competitiveness caused by the overvaluation of the pound.
"While the South is booming, other regions are locked into economic stagnation. The South is running a temperature and the North is trying desperately to keep warm.
"It doesn't say much about the virility of national economic policy when the benefits cannot be felt beyond The Wash."
The statistics revealed that the average gross weekly earnings in April 2002 were £425.60 on Merseyside, slightly below the figure of £426.80 across the North West.
In contrast, the national average earnings were £464.70 - rising to £624.10 in London.
Mr Holmes pointed out that, according to the Office of National Statistics, 125,000 jobs were lost in manufacturing last year, as well as 36,000 in agriculture and fishing.
And the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance has risen by 4,300 on average over the last three months, now standing at 952,000.
The ONS figures come hard on the heels of a report last week by a Commons committee, which concluded the North-South economic divide was getting worse.
The committee's report called for tax penalties and tax breaks to encourage employers away from the South East.