Is Liverpool really poorer than Manchester? It depends how you count

The Mersey Gateway Bridge, which links Runcorn to Widnes. Image: Getty.

Back in September 2017 I compared some statistics for Liverpool and Leeds – after first resizing Liverpool to give it the same physical area as Leeds, so as to make for a fairer comparison. Using my chosen metrics, Liverpool won out fairly substantially.

This exercise was quite popular, and yielded interesting results, so I have decided to revisit the theme this month. This time I have chosen to focus on three different versions of Liverpool. I’ve also included statistics for Greater Manchester, as a reference point.

Here are the three versions of Liverpool I’ve chosen, ranked in my preferred order:

1. The true metropolitan area which I’ll call “Greater Liverpool”, which I defined and described here. That consists of nine English local authority areas (Cheshire West and Chester, Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton, Warrington, West Lancashire, Wirral), plus two in north Wales (Flintshire and Wrexham). 

2. The stunted official Liverpool City Region. That consists of just six of the English local authority areas: Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral;  

3. And, purely for completeness, the City of Liverpool single local authority area. This, while being the core component, is not the whole story as far as economic discussion is concerned. 

My own view is that the Greater Liverpool metropolitan area represents the true independent functional economic area around here. On this point I concur with this seminal 2011 report titled ”Rebalancing Britain: Policy or slogan? Liverpool City Region – Building on its Strengths”, written by Lord Heseltine and Sir Terry Leahy. All of the statistics referenced in this article were sourced directly from the Office for National Statistics.

So, what do the statistics show for the first three versions of Liverpool, mentioned above? To give these numbers some context I’ve also included the figures for Greater Manchester – that is, the 10 English local authority areas of Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan.

As can be seen, when Greater Manchester is compared to the Greater Liverpool metropolitan area, their economic performance is very similar. Indeed, the truly remarkable discovery from this exercise is that the GVA per head of Greater Liverpool and the GVA per head of Greater Manchester came out exactly the same, at £21,626.

Incidentally, if a combined road and railway crossing was built across the River Dee between the Wirral peninsula and North Wales, as shown on the map above, it would, for example, bring Rhyl to within a half hour journey time of Liverpool city centre. It’d also be likely to have a very positive impact on the Denbighshire and Conwy local authority areas’ economies, by bringing them directly into the Greater Liverpool metropolis. 

The map shows two potential locations for a River Dee crossing. Option A, between West Kirby and Talacre, is about eight miles in total; and option B, between Heswall and Holywell, is about 10 miles in total. Both options connect to the M53 and into the existing eight lanes of road tunnels; and to the Liverpool Underground railway tunnel, under the River Mersey directly into Liverpool city centre.

While we’re at it, the River Dee is one of eight sites that have been identified as optimum for a tidal barrage in the UK. Here’s a video of one at work in France: 

 

Such a development would also complement the proposed Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project in South Wales

To take account of such a development, I’ve also calculated the numbers for a greater, Greater Liverpool  which includes the Denbighshire and Conwy local authority areas. That increases the GVA and population substantially, whilst reducing the GVA per head figure:

 

One last thing. If, because of a national border, only the nine local English local authority areas’ statistics had been included in the Greater Liverpool figures, then Greater Liverpool’s GVA per head for 2015 would have increased to £21,667. That’s actually higher than Greater Manchester’s £21,626. Would that have made the headlines, do you think?

Dave Mail is CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.


 

 
 
 
 

“Stop worrying about hairdressers”: The UK government has misdiagnosed its productivity problem

We’re going as fast as we can, here. Image: Getty.

Gonna level with you here, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan of schadenfreude, so learning that it the government has messed up in a previously unsuspected way gives me this sort of warm glow inside. On the other hand, the way it’s been screwing up is probably making the country poorer, and exacerbating the north south divide. So, mixed reviews really.

Here’s the story. This week the Centre for Cities (CfC) published a major report on Britain’s productivity problem. For the last 200 years, ever since the industrial revolution, this country has got steadily richer. Since the financial crash, though, that seems to have stopped.

The standard narrative on this has it that the problem lies in the ‘long tail’ of unproductive businesses – that is, those that produce less value per hour. Get those guys humming, the thinking goes, and the productivity problem is sorted.

But the CfC’s new report says that this is exactly wrong. The wrong tail: Why Britain’s ‘long tail’ is not the cause of its productivity problems (excellent pun, there) delves into the data on productivity in different types of businesses and different cities, to demonstrate two big points.

The first is that the long tail is the wrong place to look for productivity gains. Many low productivity businesses are low productivity for a reason:

The ability of manufacturing to automate certain processes, or the development of ever more sophisticated computer software in information and communications have greatly increased the output that a worker produces in these industries. But while a fitness instructor may use a smartphone today in place of a ghetto blaster in 1990, he or she can still only instruct one class at a time. And a waiter or waitress can only serve so many tables. Of course, improvements such as the introduction of handheld electronic devices allow orders to be sent to the kitchen more efficiently, will bring benefits, but this improvements won’t radically increase the output of the waiter.

I’d add to that: there is only so fast that people want to eat. There’s a physical limit on the number of diners any restaurant can actually feed.

At any rate, the result of this is that it’s stupid to expect local service businesses to make step changes in productivity. If we actually want to improve productivity we should focus on those which are exporting services to a bigger market.  There are fewer of these, but the potential gains are much bigger. Here’s a chart:

The y-axis reflects number of businesses at different productivities, shown on the x-axis. So bigger numbers on the left are bad; bigger numbers on the right are good. 

The question of which exporting businesses are struggling to expand productivity is what leads to the report’s second insight:

Specifically it is the underperformance of exporting businesses in cities outside of the Greater South East that causes not only divergences across the country in wages and standards of living, but also hampers national productivity. These cities in particular should be of greatest concern to policy makers attempting to improve UK productivity overall.

In other words, it turned out, again, to the north-south divide that did it. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? This is my shocked face.

The best way to demonstrate this shocking insight is with some more graphs. This first one shows the distribution of productivity in local services business in four different types of place: cities in the south east (GSE) in light green, cities in the rest of the country (RoGB) in dark green, non-urban areas in the south east in purple, non-urban areas everywhere else in turquoise.

The four lines are fairly consistent. The light green, representing south eastern cities has a lower peak on the left, meaning slightly fewer low productivity businesses, but is slightly higher on the right, meaning slightly more high productivity businesses. In other words, local services businesses in the south eastern cities are more productive than those elsewhere – but the gap is pretty narrow. 

Now check out the same graph for exporting businesses:

The differences are much more pronounced. Areas outside those south eastern cities have many more lower productivity businesses (the peaks on the left) and significantly fewer high productivity ones (the lower numbers on the right).

In fact, outside the south east, cities are actually less productive than non-urban areas. This is really not what you’d expect to see, and no a good sign for the health of the economy:

The report also uses a few specific examples to illustrate this point. Compare Reading, one of Britain’s richest medium sized cities, with Hull, one of its poorest:

Or, looking to bigger cities, here’s Bristol and Sheffield:

In both cases, the poorer northern cities are clearly lacking in high-value exporting businesses. This is a problem because these don’t just provide well-paying jobs now: they’re also the ones that have the potential to make productivity gains that can lead to even better jobs. The report concludes:

This is a major cause for concern for the national economy – the underperformance of these cities goes a long way to explain both why the rest of Britain lags behind the Greater South East and why it performs poorly on a

European level. To illustrate the impact, if all cities were as productive as those in the Greater South East, the British economy would be 15 per cent more productive and £225bn larger. This is equivalent to Britain being home to four extra city economies the size of Birmingham.

In other words, the lesson here is: stop worrying about the productivity of hairdressers. Start worrying about the productivity of Hull.


You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report here.

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

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