London is funding the rest of the UK, and other things we just learned about the nation's taxes

A generic stock image to represent the concept of taxes. Image: Pixabay.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

So those nice people at the Centre For Cities have just published a new report crunching the numbers on economy taxes – those relating to labour and property, basically – for 62 British cities, in the years from 2004-05 to 2014-15.

It’s packed full of interesting maps and charts and (spoilers) massively depressing statistics. Here's what we learnt.

In nearly a third of British cities, the tax take has fallen

The national picture on economy taxes is pretty encouraging. In 2004-05, they stood at £283bn; by 2014-15, they’d increased by 12 percent £317bn in 2014-5 (all figures in 2014-15 prices to make sure they're comparable). The decade in between those two stats included the worst recession in decades, so that doesn’t seem like bad going.

Look at individual cities, though, and the news is less good.

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In 20 out of 62 cities featured, the tax take has fallen. And those 20 include some biggies: Birmingham, Glasgow and Leeds.

There's a regional pattern to the figures

Well, two regional differences, really. Here’s a map:

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In an entirely shocking development, in England, the fastest growing tax bases are mostly in the south; the fastest shrinking ones mostly in the north. Up in Scotland, the divide is prosperous Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and shrinking Dundee and Glasgow.

I know, we were surprised too.

Tax per job seems to be falling is most cities

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In other words, an increase in employment is not necessarily leading to an increase in tax take. That might be a recession thing – or it might point to the rise of relatively low value jobs.

Britain is a freak country

Urban theorists like Geoffrey West like to talk about the agglomeration effect: larger cities mean more connections, which means more productivity, which means more growth.

Except, for some reason, in Britain. Over the last 10 years, much of the biggest growth in tax take has come in smaller cities. Larger cities – with the single exception of London – don't make the list:

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The Treasury is increasingly dependent on fewer, more productive cities

Although British cities are contributing almost the same share of taxes to the national pot as they did a decade ago, these tax revenues are being generated by fewer cities.

In 2004/05 the top 10 largest cities generated 66 per cent of all urban economy taxes, in 2014/15 this had risen to 68 per cent.

Which doesn't sound great if you want a resilient economy, but okay. More concerningly:

The Treasury is terrifyingly dependent on London

You know all that silly talk of London going independent to retain its EU membership? And you know the way much of the rest of the country's opinion seems to be "good riddance"?

Well:

In 2004/05, London generated as much economy tax as the next 24 largest cities combined (40 per cent of all economy taxes generated in cities). In 2014/15 the capital created almost as much tax as the next 37 cities (45 per cent of the urban total). This shift is even more staggering when looking specifically at labour taxes.

To make the same point another way: in 2004-05, London generated 25.3 per cent of the national tax take. Which was bad. In 2014-15, it generated 28.6 per cent of the national tax take. Which is worse.

Even the most expansive definitions of London, which cover the entire commuter belt, give the city a metropolitan population of around 13m. It is, at most, 20 per cent of the UK population. It's punching way above its weight

To hammer that home for a moment:

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Or, just in case you’re still not getting it:

There's a lot more in the report. There's even a whole new data tool to play with. This, for example, is an interactive map of percentage change in economy taxes generated in 62 British cities between 2004 and 2014.

You can check the new data tool out here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge

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Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.