British cities among Europe’s top perfomers

Published: 7 April 2008

British cities have experienced stronger economic improvement over the last decade than in most other European countries.

British cities have experienced stronger economic improvement over the last decade than in most other European countries.

This is one of the main findings of new research by the University of Glasgow’s Professor Ivan Turok and Dr Vlad Mykhnenko.

Their report is published this week in the first issue of a new European journal Urban Research and Practice.

The reasons for the resurgence of British cities include a mutually reinforcing boom in consumption - shopping and entertainment; cash - financial services; and ‘cool’ - better amenities. Central cities have become increasingly fashionable places to live, work and play. Higher spending on public services - especially health and education - has strengthened the recovery.

Britain filled seven of the top 20 places in the European league of urban employment revival, including London, Southampton, Derby, Sheffield, Liverpool, Coventry and Newcastle.

All suffered a loss of jobs between 1985 and 1995 - mainly as a result of industrial decline - but they bounced back strongly the following decade through the growth of services. Many former industrial cities have found a new economic purpose, contrary to widespread perceptions not so long ago that they should be written off.

The three absolute star performers among European cities have been Helsinki, Stockholm and Dublin. These places have successfully combined higher productivity with broad-based employment growth, ensuring generalised prosperity. British cities have not enjoyed quite the same level of productivity growth.

Meanwhile, Germany has many of Europe’s most sluggish cities, despite starting off among the most prosperous places in the early 1990s. Cities in France, Italy, Netherlands and Belgium have performed better than in Germany, but less well than in Britain.

Professor Turok said: “The study confirms that cities can be economic powerhouses again in the 21st century, although there are different growth paths that we need to understand better. Cities in ‘arc of prosperity’ countries are following a high quality growth path in which rising incomes go together with more jobs, creating higher living standards for all. They are developing as knowledge hubs providing high value goods and services to global markets.

“In Britain, the recovery in employment has been particularly strong among cities in the North and West, showing that they can help efforts to redress the North-South divide. We still have a lot to learn about the way some other European countries develop and manage their cities, including investment in infrastructure and public spaces. It will also be a challenge for the UK government to sustain the recent urban renaissance in the chill winds of economic slowdown.”

The results are from a major study of Europe’s 150 largest cities. They are defined as functional city regions and extend beyond the core local authority areas. All have a population of at least 200,000 and together account for half of Europe’s population. The study covered the period 1980-2005 and was based on statistical analysis of trends in economic output (GVA), productivity, employment, average incomes, retail spending and population.

First published: 7 April 2008

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