Britain's cities are generating wealth far beyond their boundaries. Wage statistics prove it

Some money. We struggled a bit to illustrate this one, if we're honest. Image: Getty.

As Cities Outlook 2016 shows, the majority of the UK’s economy is concentrated in our largest cities. But this doesn’t just benefit city residents – it also benefits those living in the areas around cities to. And a glance at the data on where wages are earned shows us why.

In 2015, people living in cities were paid a combined total wage of £6.8bn. That’s a big number, but it’s quite a lot less than the £8bn earned by people who work in cities. This meant that, in net terms, our cities generated £1.2bn in wages for those people living in their hinterlands or beyond.

The role that a city plays in its wider area varies from place to place, as illustrated in the map below. In cities marked in green, workers earned more than residents: these places provided high paid job opportunities for people from their surrounding areas.

Red, on the other hand, represents cities where the total pay packet of workers was lower than wages earned by residents. In these cities, many residents have looked elsewhere for higher paid job opportunities.

Click to expand. Source: ONS 2015, Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

The map tells us three main things. Firstly, many cities play a hugely important role in providing jobs for their wider areas. In two thirds of all UK cities, the total wages earned by workers outstripped wages earned by residents. 

Secondly, a number of cities around London see an inflow of wages, rather than an outflow, reflecting the strength of the capital’s economy. And with the exception of Reading, all of these cities were coastal, suggesting that the amenities and quality of life offered by seaside places is a big draw for London workers. (This was echoed in our survey work of Brighton in our Urban Demographics research from last year.)

Thirdly, the inflow of wages into a number of cities in Yorkshire and the North West show the importance of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool within the Northern Powerhouse region. To some people, the Northern Powerhouse is about spreading economic activity across the North. But this data shows the vital importance of these three big cities as a source of wages – despite the fact that, on a national level, these places punch below their weight. Improving the performance of these cities will be vital to turning round the fortunes of the northern economy as a whole.

A number of city leaders have in the past expressed concern that their residents are lower paid than their workers – raising questions about why residents are unable to take advantage of the job opportunities within their cities.

But such statistics also show the role of the cities in providing opportunities beyond their boundaries. While in some ways they represent a challenge, in other respects they’re a sign of strength.

More importantly, it underlines the importance of cities and their wider areas working together on policy. Economic policy should match the geography that people work, shop and live their lives over. And while there has been huge progress in recent years, especially with the formation of combined authorities across many of parts of the country, some of our largest cities still have some way to go to put city-region-wide structures in place.

Paul Swinney is principal economist at the Centre for Cities.

To find out more about the Cities Outlook 2016 report, click here.


Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.


Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 

“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

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

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL