A new report by the think tank Centre for Cities calls for greater Government focus on addressing the economic challenges facing some of the UK’s fastest-growing and strongest-performing cities like Swindon.
And representatives of the five cities, which also includes Cambridge, Oxford, Milton Keynes and Norwich, gathered together today (March 8) in the House of Commons to drive the point home to Government.
Swindon, although technically not designated a city, is one of the five economically vibrant powerhouses in the south which are vital to the national economy, who have come together in a a consortium called the Fast Growth Cities group to push their case.
The Centre for Cities report, ‘Fast Growth Cities: the opportunities and challenges ahead’, was officially launched today in association with the group. It shows that the five cities are playing an increasingly important role in the national economy, with all five delivering higher productivity levels than bigger cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. They also have higher than average levels of employment and business start-ups, and are among the fastest growing places in terms of population.
Cross-party representatives from Swindon Council travelled to Parliament to hear South Swindon MP Robert Buckland speaking on behalf of the town.
Before the launch event Swindon Council leader David Renard said: “There’s been concern amongst cities outside London that a lot of attention has been given to urban areas in the north of England and the large counties. The five cities have come together to demonstrate that they make a considerable impact on the British economy, a contribution that central government should both recognise and encourage with greater investment.
“I’m pleased Robert Buckland MP is supporting our campaign by speaking out for the five cities at the launch in the House of Commons. We’re making a statement of intent that the message from our cities must be listened to and supports our vision for Swindon.”
Cllr Junab Ali, deputy leader of the Labour opposition on Swindon Council added: “We’re taking a cross party approach to promoting Swindon as one of the five major growth areas in Britain. The statistics revealed by the Centre for Cities shows that the five Fast Growth Cities have high productivity levels than big cities like Manchester and Birmingham, and they also have higher than average levels of employment and business start-ups, as well as being among the fastest growing places in terms of population.
“However government has to help us overcome the problems this creates like lack of housing, creaking infrastructure and the need to train local people to meet skill shortages.”
See the performance info-graphic and the Centre for Cities press release below
In order for the Government to meet its goal of increasing the productivity of the national economy, it needs to make the most of our cities. Cities drive growth, accounting for over 60 per cent of economic output despite covering just 8 per cent of land. But not all cities are as well placed to grow as others, with some struggling to attract employers and so provide jobs.
The Fast Growth Cities group, comprised of Cambridge, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Swindon and Norwich, contains some of the UK’s most successful cities. These cities perform strongly on a range of economic indicators, including productivity and share of knowledge-based jobs. Their ability to attract these knowledge-based businesses puts them in a strong position to continue to grow in the future.
The report looks at the economic contribution of the Fast Growth Cities to the UK, highlighting their shared and distinctive economic characteristics that make supporting these cities important. It also examines the key barriers to growth the cities are increasingly facing, and that need to be overcome to allow these cities to continue to contribute to the UK economy at the rate they have been.
However, the report warns that these cities are facing a number of significant economic challenges which threaten to undermine their continuing economic success in the years to come, including:
• Housing – this is an increasing problem for the Fast Growth Cities, with a lack of new homes leading to higher housing prices and low affordability. Oxford and Cambridge, for example, are the first and third least affordable cities in the UK respectively, which is proving a major barrier to recruiting and retaining workers in those places. Allowing these cities the freedom to borrow through the Housing Revenue Account would enable them to provide more of the affordable housing they need.
• Increasing transport congestion – the Fast Growth Cities all attract large numbers of workers from surrounding areas, resulting in significant traffic congestion problems. The report warns that Government funding for transport infrastructure is too short term to enable the Fast Growth Cities to address this issue, and calls for longer-term funding commitments (such as those available to Manchester and Sheffield)
• Skills gaps – all the Fast Growth Cities are affected by skill shortages to some degree, especially in terms of recruiting workers with the right skill-sets for the innovative industries which these places are home to. Swindon, Milton Keynes and Norwich, for example, all have a lower than average proportion of residents with level 4 qualifications (equivalent to a degree) or higher.
The report calls for greater Government recognition of the opportunities and challenges facing these cities, alongside focused policies to help them address these issues, as part of its ongoing devolution plans.
Commenting on the findings, Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities said: “The Government’s devolution agenda has understandably focused on boosting growth in some of the UK’s biggest city-economies, many of which are punching below their weight economically. However, for the Government to realise its ambitions of building a more productive and higher-wage economy across the country, it’s crucial that it does not overlook the challenges facing the Fast Growth Cities group, which are among the most economically vibrant and innovative places in the UK.
“For these cities to continue to grow, it’s vital that they receive the kind of tailored policy support the Government is putting in place for cities like Greater Manchester and Sheffield. It’s also important that any devolution deals involving the ‘Fast Growth’ cities respond to the specific obstacles and opportunities they face. If they are included in wider regional deals, those agreements should retain a strong urban focus, to make the most of the economic characteristics and strengths of these cities. This should be a key consideration for the Government as it extends its devolution agenda in the coming years.”