Liverpool’s economy has grown quicker than you think – but what’s the matter with Leeds?

Not a happy owl: Leeds. 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. 

A couple of weeks back in this slot, I made a shocking discovery. Since 1998, measured on the size of the economy as a whole, the fastest growing non-capital among Britain’s major cities had been Liverpool. This result runs so against the received wisdom that I dedicated a second article entirely to exploring possible explanations for the disparity.

 

Click to expand.

There was one possibility I didn’t explore in that last post, however: that it was simply a quirk of starting the clock when I did. Perhaps judging cities on the size of their economies, relative to the same figures in 1998, produced misleading results.

So, let’s run the numbers again. This time, though, we’re going to start the numbers in 2007, the last year of the good times, before the financial crisis and austerity and all that it wrought.

Let’s play our game.

Click to expand.

First thing to note: that Liverpool result wasn’t a fluke. There’s a huge bounce into 2009, which suggests that the 2008 European Capital of Culture award may have been a big help to the city. But while it falls back as the crash beds in and austerity bites, it’s growing strongly again from 2020, and ends the chart in fourth place. By 2016, its economy had grown by more than a quarter.

What of the rest? It won’t surprise anyone to see that London is in first place, or that Bristol – the only other southern English city listed – is running it close. Both economies have expanded fairly steadily (although I’d love to know what happened in Bristol in 2014). The great recession barely touched them, and the western city has probably benefited, too, from people and jobs getting priced out of the capital.

As to the other national capitals, Edinburgh had a wobble in 2009-10, but bounced back fairly strongly. With Cardiff the story is more interesting. Viewed in terms of its progress since 1998, its economy is one of Britain’s star performers. Starting the clock later, though, and we can see it had a tough recession, and its economy took several years to get back to its 2007 value.


Britain’s largest cities outside London, Manchester and Birmingham, are in the middle of the pack. The former has expanded fairly consistently, if unimpressively; the latter had a harder crash but a stronger rebound. Both those things probably fit with what we already knew about them.

It’s at the bottom of the league table that the other surprise lies: the cities of Yorkshire are in trouble.

It’s no shock that Sheffield should be pulling up the rear – it’s consistently the most economically troubled of Britain’s major cities, struggling not just with industrial decline but also poor infrastructure and physical isolation.

The sluggish growth in Leeds is more unexpected. For much of the 20th century, it was the richest of the big northern cities – but it’s clearly in relative decline.

Why this should be, I have no idea. It can’t be the absence of a metro mayor as these figures pre-date them. Poor transport – the inability to link people to jobs – might be a factor, but that’s probably my own prejudices speaking. Got a clue? Write in.

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

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The media scumbag’s route of choice: A personal history of London’s C2 bus

A C2 bus at Parliament Hill. Image: David Howard/Wikimedia Commons.

London’s C2 bus route, which runs from Parliament Hill, by Hampstead Heath, down to Conduit Street, just off Regent Street, is one of the bus routes recently earmarked for the chop. It has oft been noted that, of all the routes recently pencilled in for cancellation after a consultation late last year, it was the one most likely to survive, for the simple reason that it links liberal suburban north London with BBC Broadcasting House and Soho; it’s thus the route most likely to be used by people who can convince someone to let them report on its imminent demise.

So it would come as no surprise that former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger took to the Camden New Journal when the consultation began, arguing that it would be a disservice to the local community to discontinue a route where you can always get a seat – seemingly missing the point that the fact you can always get a seat is not a great sign of the route’s usefulness.

It wasn’t always that way. When I left university in 2000, and moved from accommodation near college to up to a rented shared house in N6, the C2 was my bus. I commuted to Soho for sixteen years: for more than a decade from flats around the Swain’s Lane roundabout, and for five years from Kentish Town. While my place of work bounced around from Golden Square to Lexington Street to Great Marlborough, it was always the most convenient way to get to, and from, work; especially given the difference between bus and tube prices.

So when it comes to the C2 I’ve seen it, I’ve done it, and bought the bus pass. And by bus pass, I mean those little paper ones that still existed at the beginning of this century. Not just before contactless, but before Oyster cards.

More importantly, it was before London buses operated a single zone. There was an outer zone, and an inner zone, with different prices. To travel from one zone to another cost £1.30, meaning an all cash commute was £2.60, whereas a paper bus pass was £2.00. That made it worth your while to divert to an early opening newsagents on your way to the bus stop (GK, in my case), even if you only got two buses a day.

It’s a measure of how greatly London’s buses have improved over the last twenty years, since first brought under control of the mayoralty, that pretty much everything about this anecdotage, including the prices, seems faintly mad. But there’s more: back when I started getting that bus down to Stop N, literally at the very end of the route, the C2 used single decker buses with a single door. It’s an appalling design for use in a crowded city, which meant most of any journey was, for most passengers, spent fighting your way up and down the middle of the bus to find a seat, and then back again to get off; or – and this was more likely – fighting your way up the bus to get into standing space the driver insisted was there, before fighting your way, etc.

Such buses – and in my former life in the English Midlands I went to school on one of these buses every day – are perfectly functional where bus stops are infrequent and buses rarely standing room only. But running through Camden Town at rush hour, they’re wholly unfit for purpose.

A Citypacer. Image: RXUYDC/Wikimedia Commons.

It could have been worse. I didn’t know this at the time, but a few years before the C2 route had been run using Optare City Pacers. Those are, let us be frank, not really buses at all, but minibuses. That’s something the reveals the C2’s origins, as a hopper route to the west end largely intended for the daytime use of Gospel Oak’s pensioners in the years immediately before bus privatisation. (The C11 has a similar origin, taking the same constituency from Archway to England’s Lane.)

Once responsibility for London Buses was moved to the newly established mayoralty, things improved dramatically. Under Ken Livingstone it went double decker in 2005, and 24 hour in 2007. Under Boris Johnson it was extended from its once, and future, terminus of Conduit Street to Victoria Station, swallowing up the cancelled sections of the 8 bus; this extension was quietly disposed of a few years later, once it was clear no one would notice. (I did.)


In those years I must have taken a C2 the best part of ten thousand times; but for all the years when I wouldn’t have been able to live without the C2, times have reduced its utility, and not just for me. I’m now a 214 sort of guy: these days the top chunk of the C2 route is duplicated exactly by that other bus, which starts up in Highgate Village and, once it gets to Swain’s Lane, follows the same path until the fork of Kentish Town Road and Royal College Street, opposite the long defunct South Kentish Town tube station.

From a few hundred metres below that point, at Camden Gardens, stop C, the 88 starts. That duplicates the rest of the C2’s route, with the exception of the run down Albany Street and onto Great Portland, for much of which the C2 is the only bus.

So the C2, old friend that it is, is pretty redundant in the age of the hopper fare, which allows you to change buses without paying a second fare. That’s even more true now the C2’s otherwise un-serviced stops are being giving over to a re-routed 88, which will pick up the C2’s most northern leg, by not finishing at Camden Gardens anymore and instead going all the way to Parliament Hill Fields. Which will be nice for it.

All this, however, ignores the best reason for getting rid of the C2 (or rather for merging it with the 88, which is what’s actually happening): that first character. The letter. Who wants a bus route with a letter in front of it when even half the night buses don’t have the N anymore? It’s relic of the route’s aforementioned origins as a ‘Camdenhopper’.

That C is twenty five years past its own utility. It’s just untidy. City Metric hates that sort of thing. Get rid.