What does the data say about London’s prospects for prosperity?

Look! Some data! Image: Getty.

Can you assess the prosperity and performance of a global city when there is so much going on at once? How do you reflect this complexity and balance a range of indicators, capturing aspects of the city that might be missed in more traditional, one-dimensional analyses?

We are trying to do this at Centre for London with our new quarterly publication, The London Intelligence, which provides a regular picture of London’s performance across a range of indicators.

We are still reviewing the lessons learned from our first edition, which came out in July. We found no shortage of data, but bringing it together with the careful analysis that creates intelligence was a more complex matter – as shown in the examples below.

Immigration to London: National Insurance Number Registrations

One frequent measure of immigration is the number of overseas nationals registering for National Insurance numbers (NINos), which they need to work or claim benefits in the UK. As a full administrative data set, these tell us information about people coming to London, including their nationality and place of application.

There is some quarterly variation, but data shows a 15 per cent reduction in the number of registrations from January to March this year, compared to 2016. Most of this fall came from EU citizens, perhaps signalling a worrying fallout from Brexit.

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Some nuances in interpretation exist, however. The quarter does not necessarily reflect when an individual arrives in the UK – the figures above probably demonstrate a lag effect.

While the numbers reflect international migration, they do not paint a complete picture: not accounting for people coming for other purposes (such as students), and not saying anything about length of stay, or if they have left. For example, we showed a drop-off in Europeans arriving; Europeans may be leaving in even greater numbers, but these data would not show that.

So while this decline is worrying, it is not necessarily significant in isolation – using future releases combined with other datasets, it will give more insight.

Young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs)

There are many economic indicators available – the publication includes eight – but here we discuss NEET rates, because it provides an indication of inclusiveness of London’s labour market.

According to the data, outcomes of young people in London have been improving recently, reaching a record low of 8.6 per cent. The observed seasonality results from school/university leavers, giving spikes in each third quarter.

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However, data on young people at the margin of London’s labour market is relatively poor. NEET estimates come mainly from surveys compiled by the Department for Education – meaning there are margins of error to each estimate. Therefore, while London’s rate may appear lower than the England rate in the most recent quarter, we cannot say for certain this is the case.

Further, evidence suggests the survey misses up to a quarter of youngsters in the capital, whose status is declared ‘unknown’, and so London’s young people may not be doing as well as suggested.

House Prices

National house price changes are often quoted in the media, but this belies layers of complexity. In the publication, we use mean house prices using Land Registry data on housing transactions, which acts as a headline indicator for London’s housing market (and a wider acid-test of the economy).

The data can be tracked over time and space in London. Borough-level analysis reveals distinct patterns over the year to April: outer boroughs are largely experiencing strong growth, while inner east boroughs in particular are cooling off.

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There are some limitations to be aware of. At borough level, prices are not mix or seasonally adjusted, and with small volumes of transactions, comparisons can be difficult – average (mean rather than median) prices tend to jump around a little each month dependent on the properties sold. Further, not all transactions are registered immediately, so readjustments (mostly small) happen in the medium term.

The borough data is useful for a spatial interpretation of trends, but does not give significant insight into the performance of different housing sub-markets, which often have divergent trends. Even within boroughs, different areas may be seeing dramatic differences in property market performance.

Looking at datasets in conjunction can be a powerful tool, especially when limitations are acknowledged, and numbers are explained and given meaning. It can provide a holistic and accessible, rather than parochial and specialist, view into our rapidly changing city, as the uncertainties of Brexit start to bite.

Tom Colthorpe is a researcher at Centre for London. You can learn more about the London Intelligence, and get your copy, here.

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Where actually is South London?

TFW Stephen Bush tells you that Chelsea is a South London team. Image: Getty.

To the casual observer, this may not seem like a particularly contentious question: isn’t it just everything ‘under’ the Thames when you look at the map? But despite this, some people will insist that places like Fulham, clearly north of the river, are in South London. Why?

Here are nine ways of defining South London.

The Thames

Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

It’s a curvy river, the Thames. Hampton Court Palace, which is on the north bank of the river, is miles south of the London Eye, on the south bank. If the river forms a hard border between North and South Londons, then logically sometimes North London is going to be south of South London, which is, to be fair, confusing. But how else could we do it?


You could just draw a horizontal line across a central point (say, Charing Cross, where the road distances are measured from). While this solves the London Eye/Hampton Court problem, this puts Thamesmead in North London, and Shepherd’s Bush in South London, which doesn’t seem right either.

Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

And if you tried to use longitude to define West and East London on top of this, nothing would ever make sense ever again.

The Post Office

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Some people give the Post Office the deciding vote, arguing that North and South London are defined by their postcodes. This does have some advantages, such as removing many contentious areas from the debate because they’re either in the West, East or Central postcode divisions, or ignoring Croydon.

But six of the SW postcodes are north of the river Thames, so we’re back to saying places like Fulham and Chelsea are in south London. Which is apparently fine with some people, but are we also going to concede that Big Ben and Buckingham Palace are South London landmarks?

Taken to the extreme this argument denies that South London exists at all. The South postcode region was abolished in 1868, to be merged into the SE and SW regions. The S postcode area is now Sheffield. So is Sheffield in South London, postcode truthers? Is that what you want?

Transport for London

Image: TfL.

At first glance TfL might not appear to have anything to add to the debate. The transport zones are about distance from the centre rather than compass point. And the Northern Line runs all the way through both North and South London, so maybe they’re just confused about the entire concept of directions.


Image: TfL.

But their website does provide bus maps that divide the city into 5 regions: North East, South East, South West, North West and the Centre. Although this unusual approach is roughly speaking achieved by drawing lines across and down the middle, then a box around the central London, there are some inconsistencies. Parts of Fulham are called for the South West region, yet the whole of the Isle of Dogs is now in North East London? Sick. It’s sick.

The Boundary Commission

One group of people who ought to know a thing or two about boundaries is the Boundary Commission for England. When coming up with proposals for reforming parliamentary constituencies in 2011, it first had to define ‘sub-regions’ for London.

Initially it suggested three – South, North East, and a combined North, West and Central region, which included Richmond (controversial!) – before merging the latter two into ‘North’ and shifting Richmond back to the South.

In the most recent proposal the regions have reverted to North Thames and South Thames (splitting Richmond), landing us right back where we started. Thanks a bunch, boundary commission.

The London Plan

Image: Greater London Authority.

What does the Mayor of London have to say? His office issues a London Plan, which divides London into five parts. Currently ‘South’ includes only Bromley, Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Sutton, and Wandsworth, while the ‘North’ consists of just Barnet, Enfield, and Haringey. Everywhere else is divvied into East, South or Central.

While this minimalist approach does have the appeal of satisfying no-one, given the scheme has been completely revised twice since 2004 it does carry the risk of seismic upheaval. What if Sadiq gets drunk on power and declares that Islington is in East London? What then?



Image: Wikimedia Commons/CityMetric.

The coordinates listed on the South London article lead to Brockwell Park near Herne Hill, while the coordinates on the North London article lead to a garden centre near Redbridge. I don’t know what this means, so I tried to ring the garden centre to see if they had any advice on the matter. It was closed.

Pevsner Guides

Image: Wikimedia Commons/CityMetric.

Art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner might seem an unlikely source of help at this juncture, but we’ve tried everything else. And the series of architectural guides that he edited, The Buildings of England, originally included 2 volumes for London: “The Cities of London and Westminster”, and “everything else”. Which is useless.

But as his successors have revised his work, London has expanded to fill 6 volumes: North, North West, East, The City, Westminster, and South. South, quite sensibly, includes every borough south of the Thames, and any borough that is partly south of the Thames (i.e. Richmond). And as a bonus: West London no longer exists.


I rang a McDonald’s in Fulham and asked if they were in South London. They said no.

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