York's position as the wealthiest area in the north of England in the latest official statistics could say more about the number of people commuting into the city, according to an economics expert.

The new figures from the Office for National Statistics showed the city had an average gross domestic product (or income) per head of £13,462.

This was way ahead of the average figure for Yorkshire and Humberside _ £9,585 _ and more than Leeds, at £11,702, and south Greater Manchester at £11,512.

North Yorkshire's figure was more on a par with cities like Hull and Sheffield at £9,935 and below the national average of £10,711.

And the average income for people in the East Riding was £8,920.

But Dr Bernard Stafford, from the University of York's economics department, said the figures were probably affected by the way they were worked out.

First of all a figure was worked out for the total gross domestic product for each council area - the amount of money generated from each area.

That total figure was then divided by the number of residents living in the area.

He said that if everyone who worked in York also lived in York the figure would be more accurate.

But many people who worked in York did not live within the city boundary and commuted in.

This pattern of commuting had probably affected the figures for North Yorkshire and the East Riding as well because many of their residents contributed to the domestic product for York, rather than where they lived.

The lower figures for cities like Leeds and Manchester were probably explained by the fact they were larger geographical council areas and many people commuted within those areas.

He said: "These comparisons have to be treated with extreme caution because of the commuting flows across the boundaries of the city. In York's case the 'in-commuters' outweigh the 'out-commuters, which inflates the figure for the city and deflates it elsewhere."

The figures, which cover 1996, are contained in the first detailed breakdown of the national gross domestic product (or economic output) for each locality.

The richest region in the country came out as west central London, which includes areas like Mayfair, and where the average income was £44,811.

At the other end of the scale was East and Midlothian in Scotland with a figure of £5,999.

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