Letter: Some thoughts on what’s gone wrong with Leeds

The growth of the economics of major British cities since 2007. Leeds is near the bottom. Image: CityMetric, based on Centre for Cities data.

A few weeks ago, we published this piece by editor Jonn Elledge. It showed that Liverpool’s economy has grown faster than was generally realised – but Leeds, once seen as the financial capital of the north, had grown much slower.

The post generated correspondence. For example, this.


I have a few theories to explain Leeds’ relative underperformance:

  • The centralisation of English finance jobs in London. Leeds is historically England’s second city of finance. But the concentration of finance in London post Big Bang deregulation has been to Leeds’ detriment.
  • The deindustrialisation of the wider Yorkshire economy, which has affected Leeds badly. Even if there are many good jobs in Leeds itself, the decline of manufacturing and coal mining in other parts of Yorkshire has affected Leeds.
  • The polycentric nature of the Yorkshire urban area. London and Greater Manchester benefit from having one main CBD. Urban Yorkshire has many: Leeds, Sheffield, Doncaster, Wakefield. In the modern world of agglomeration, polycentric cities are bad.
  • A big graduate brain drain. Leeds University is a solid Russell group institution. But nearly all the students leave after graduating, many of whom go to London – unlike Manchester, where a lot of graduates stay.
  • Lack of foreign investment. Leeds lacks a global brand, unlike London or Manchester. It doesn’t get the same tourism numbers as Edinburgh or even Bristol, so foreign investors don’t consider it when deciding where to invest in Britain.
  • Leeds lacks the high tech, cutting edge jobs that are increasingly significant. Cities like Cambridge and Reading have seen high levels of growth because of how many tech companies are based there. Leeds doesn’t have these sorts of companies to the same extent.

Hope that helps,

Owen Bell

Crawley, West Sussex



The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

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

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.