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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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