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 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.

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