Here's why the north can't rely on the public sector to attract graduates

The Royal Manchester Children's Hospital: the NHS is a big employer in the north. Image: Getty.

The public sector is a surprisingly large employer of new graduates. As our report The Great British Brain Drain shows, publicly-funded jobs – those in public administration and defence, education and health – accounted for 46 per cent of all new graduate jobs in 2014 and 2015.

But this number varied across cities. As the map below shows, publicly-funded jobs tended to play a smaller role in the new graduate labour market in southern cities and in bigger cities further north. In Crawley, the lowest, they accounted for one in three new graduate positions. But in Barnsley, the highest, they accounted for two in three new graduate positions.

The dominance of public sector graduate jobs in cities such as Barnsley, Chatham and Blackburn reflects the weakness of the private sector in these areas, as opposed to an oversized public sector. The chart below shows that cities that are most reliant on publicly-funded sectors for new graduate jobs also tend to have the lowest numbers of private-sector positions for university leavers.

The publicly-funded and private sectors in the new graduate jobs market, 2013-14 to 2014-15. Source: HESA destination of leavers survey, ONS population estimates.

An argument put forward in the past is that part of the reason why the private sector is so small in those places where publicly-funded positions dominate is because higher-paid public positions “crowd out” the private sector.

But our data does not back this up. Removing health and education from the data, because of the specialist skills they require, shows that there was a public administration pay premium in all but two cities. So if there was an element of “crowding out” taking place, it would be happening everywhere.

And as we show in the report, the wages on offer do not seem to be a driving factor of where new graduates go to – instead the opportunity for career progression appears more important. The chart below shows that those places reliant on publicly-funded sectors to create new graduate positions also have fewer jobs in high-skilled occupations (in total, not just new graduates). That suggests that career progression is the big issue for these cities. And without the publicly-funded sector, the size of the new graduate workforce would be even smaller.

Graduate jobs in publicly-funded sectors and high-skilled jobs. Source: HESA destination of leavers survey; Annual Population Survey.

This data does also sound a note of caution for any proposal to move public sector jobs to attract in graduates. The movement of a single institution, like the ONS to Newport, does little to improve the career progression opportunities within a city. This could be different if a number of public institutions were moved to one place – but even if that did happen, it would not provide an answer for other places that struggle to attract and retain graduates.

So the ability of places such as Barnsley and Blackburn to attract and retain new graduates is very much down to the lack of opportunities in the private sector. If these cities are to attract and retain a greater number of graduates, they will need to focus on policies that support the private sector to create graduate-level opportunities to complement the positions available in public administration, education and health.

Paul Swinney is senior economist at the Centre for Cities. This article was originally published on the think tank’s blog.

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Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.