Since 1998, a major northern city has grown almost as fast as London – and it’s not the one you think

Oooh, a clue. Image: Getty.

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

One of the joys of this column is when I stumble onto something genuinely surprising. I’ve spent so long trying to come up with variations on the phrase “Well I never, it’s the north-south divide again!” that on those rare occasions when I find something weird, I am suffused with a genuine sense of delight.

Anyway, here’s the skinny. This week, I decided to look at how the economies of Britain’s major cities – London, Edinburgh and the 10 Core Cities – have grown over the last couple of decades. The Centre for Cities’ data on Gross Value Add - essentially, how much economic value is being created in each city, in pounds sterling – comes from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and goes back to 1998.

Direct comparisons between the cities would make trends difficult to spot: the data isn’t per head, so simply by virtue of being so much bigger London would dwarf all the others and render trends impossible to see. To fix that, I’ve expressed the size of each city’s economy as a multiple of its 1998 value: when a city crosses the line labelled “2”, its economy is now double the size it was in 1998.

So, here’s the chart. You may wish to expand it to look at the key.

Click to expand.

The least surprising thing here is that London tops the charts, even on this relative growth measure. Since 1998, the capital has boomed, in terms of both economics and population (the two may be connected). By 2016, its economy was worth more than 2.3 times the amount it was worth just 18 years earlier. That’s equivalent – assuming I haven’t cocked up the maths – to an average annual growth rate of about 4.8 per cent, which is really not to be sniffed at.

The next two on the list probably aren’t that surprising either. Edinburgh is a rich city and a regional financial centre; Cardiff an increasingly important media hub. More importantly, both became government centres in 1999, as the new devolved Scottish and Welsh administrations moved in. Little wonder that this has brought economy benefits. Look at the left hand side of the graph, indeed, and you can see that Cardiff was, for a while, the fastest growing major city in Britain.


Beyond that, though, things start getting counter-intuitive. Because the next fastest growing major city economy in the years since 1998 turns out to be... Liverpool.

This doesn’t really fit the narrative, does it? When we talk about rebalancing England’s economy away from London, it tends to be Manchester that comes to mind – or, at a push, Birmingham. But the latter turns out to have been one of the slowest expanding city economies since 1998, with an average annual growth rate of just 3 per cent (only Nottingham has been slower, and then only slightly). Manchester fares better, but it’s still only mid-table, at 3.7 per cent.

The true Northern Powerhouse since 1998 has been Liverpool. With an average annual growth rate of 4.2 per cent, it’s one of only five of the 12 cities to have doubled the size of its economy since 1998, passing that mark by 2015. Between 1998 and 2009-10, in fact, it was the fastest growing major city in the UK. Then there was the slight matter of the crash and the austerity which followed, but even then it’s bounced back.

This data raises a number of questions to which I simply don’t have the answer. What drove Liverpool’s relatively stellar performance? And why did nobody notice it? By the same token, what went wrong in Birmingham? Have I just mucked up the data? If you have any thoughts, please do let me know.

I’m also aware that these numbers start at a faintly arbitrary point, and that if we started the clock in another year things might look different. So, next time in this slot, I’m going to look at the same data, but this time starting at the crash. Bet you can’t wait.

You can explore the full Centre for Cities dataset here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.