Representatives from Swindon and four other cities came together at a House of Commons reception on 8 March to endorse a report by the Centre for Cities think tank that identifies their huge impact on the British economy.
Swindon, although technically not designated a city, is one of the five economically vibrant powerhouses in the south including the cities of Cambridge, Oxford, Milton Keynes and Norwich which are vital to the United Kingdom’s success.
The local authorities involved of the areas have launched a consortium called the Fast Growth Cities Group to push their case within government circles for greater investment in housing, skills training and infrastructure improvement.
The Centre for Cities report, ‘Fast Growth Cities: the opportunities and challenges ahead’, shows that the five cities deliver higher productivity levels than bigger cities such as Manchester and Birmingham, they have higher than average levels of employment and business start-ups, and are among the fastest growing places in terms of population – see the info-graphic and background below.
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.“
In the House of Commons, South Swindon MP Robert Buckland said: “I’m delighted that our town has been recognised as a place that has huge potential in terms of future growth.
“Like Swindon, each of the four other members of the Fast Cities Group faces obstacles that it must overcome in order to achieve their ambitions. However, we should not let geographical challenges hinder our town’s plan for the future. We are united in our vision to succeed, and we must cooperate with towns and cities of a similar mindset so that we can tackle these challenges together.
“2016 is a very important celebration for our town as we mark the anniversary of the birth of Swindon 175 years ago. Since its humble beginnings as a small market town, Swindon has since become a pillar of growth for the UK with its rich history, thriving business and vibrant communities.
“I look forward to seeing our extraordinary town move from strength to strength as we approach our bicentenary.”Pictured, Robert Buckland MP, right, with Cllr David Renard with the Fast Growth Cities report. Below, Robert addressing the FGC gathering in the House of Commons on 8 March
See the performance of the five area identified in the Fast Growth Cities report in the info-graphic below and the Centre for Cities press release which follows
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.”