Oh, so that’s why Sheffield is falling behind

Sheffield by night. Image: Benedict Hunjan/Wikimedia Commons.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

Last time, on CityMetric:

 

“My god! What could possibly be going on in Sheffield?”

Egad!

What we neglected to tell you last week – embarrassingly; shamefully – is that there’s probably a relatively simple explanation for all this. Two charts are enough to tell the story.

This one shows the percentage of jobs in each of the five big northern cities that are in the manufacturing sector. As ever, we’re getting our data from the Centre for Cities excellent data tool:

 

Two things are worth noting here. One is that Sheffield has significantly more jobs in making stuff than any of the other four. The other is that there's no sign of that changing. (It's tempting to say that the opposite is happening – the numbers went up in four years out of five – but the differences aren't huge, so that may be over-stating things.)

Here's the second chart. This time it's the percentage of jobs in the "Private Knowledge Intensive Business Services", which is a fancy way of saying "well-paid stuff".

You can probably guess where this is going.

Yep: Sheffield is doing a lot less well on this one.


So, how does this explain Sheffield being left behind? Well, a big manufacturing sector is not a great thing for the economy of a developed world city. Technology means that factories don't generate the jobs they once did; competitive pressure from factories all over the world mean that many of the jobs which do exist are unlikely to be particularly well-paid.

Oh, and the UK's manufacturing sector has been in recession three times in the last eight years.

The most economically successful cities tend to have smaller manufacturing bases, but much larger knowledge-based service industries. On that measure, Manchester and Leeds are clearly way out ahead.

So, yes: if moving from a low-paid manufacturing economy to a high-paid service one is your definition of economic success – which, mathematically, it should be – then Sheffield is quite clearly being left behind its two closest rivals.

To hammer the point home, here's one more graph. (I know I said there'd only be two graphs in here, but this one's a good one.) It's the correlation between weekly wages and manufacturing base in 2014.

Rich cities don't rely on manufacturing. Just say no, kids.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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What’s in the government’s new rail strategy?

A train in the snow at Gidea Park station, east London, 2003. Image: Getty.

The UK government has published its new Strategic Vision for Rail, setting out policy on what the rail network should look like and how it is to be managed. 

The most eye-catching part of the announcement concerns plans to add new lines to the network. Citing the Campaign for Better Transport’s Expanding the Railways report, the vision highlights the role that new and reopened rail lines could play in expanding labour markets, supporting housing growth, tackling road congestion and other many other benefits.

Everyone loves a good reopening project and this ‘Beeching in reverse’ was eagerly seized on by the media. Strong, long-standing reopening campaigns like Ashington, Blyth and Tyne, Wisbech and Okehampton were name checked and will hopefully be among the first to benefit from the change in policy. 

We’ve long called for this change and are happy to welcome it. The trouble is, on its own this doesn’t get us very much further forward. The main things that stop even good schemes reaching fruition are still currently in place. Over-reliance on hard-pushed local authorities to shoulder risk in initial project development; lack of central government funding; and the labyrinthine, inflexible and extortionately expensive planning process all still need reform. That may be coming and we will be campaigning for another announcement – the Rail Upgrade Plan – to tackle those problems head-on. 

Reopenings were the most passenger-friendly part of the Vision announcement. But while sepia images of long closed rail lines were filling the news, the more significant element of the Strategic Vision actually concerns franchising reform – and here passenger input continues to be notable mainly by its absence. 

Whatever you think of franchising, it is clear the existing model faces major risks which will be worsened if there is a fall in passenger numbers or a slowdown in the wider economy. Our thought leadership programme recently set out new thinking involving different franchise models operating in different areas of the country.

The East-West Link: one of the proposed reopenings. Image: National Rail.

Positively, it seems we are heading in this direction. In operational terms, Chris Grayling’s long-held ambition for integrated management of tracks and trains became clearer with plans for much closer working between Network Rail and train operators. To a degree, the proof of the pudding will in the eating. Will the new arrangements mean fewer delays and better targeted investment? These things most certainly benefit passengers, but they need to be achieved by giving people a direct input into decisions that their fares increasingly pay for. 

The government also announced a consultation on splitting the Great Western franchise into two smaller and more manageable units, but the biggest test of the new set-up is likely to be with the East Coast franchise. Alongside the announcement of the Strategic Vision came confirmation that the current East Coast franchise is being cut short.

Rumours have been circulating for some time that East Coast was in trouble again after 2009’s contract default. The current franchise will now end in 2020 and be replaced with public-private affair involving Network Rail.


This new management model is an ideal opportunity to give passengers and communities more involvement in the railway. We will be pushing for these groups to be given a direct say in service and investment decisions, and not just through a one-off paper consultation.

Elsewhere in the Strategic Vision, there are warm words and repeated commitments to things that do matter to passenger. Ticketing reform, compensation, a new rail ombudsman, investment in improved disabled access and much else. This is all welcome and important, but is overshadowed by the problems facing franchising.

Stability and efficiency are vital – but so too is a model which offers deeper involvement and influence for passengers. With the building blocks of change now in place, the challenge for both the government and rail industry is to deliver such a vision. 

Andrew Allen is research & consultancy coordinator of the Campaign for Better Transport. This article was originally published on the campaign’s blog.

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