Revealed: The UK’s top performing cities – and the biggest improvers

Considering factors such as jobs, health, income, skills and housing, the rankings for the performance of the UK’s largest cities have been revealed.

Every UK city in the Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index has seen an improvement in the 2014-2016 ratings compared to the 2013-2015 scores, despite the effects of Brexit and political uncertainty over the past year.

But holding onto its lead as the top location for economic success and wellbeing is Oxford, with an index score of 1.02, followed by Reading with a score of 0.97. The high quality of jobs, income and skills are the factors that have secured these two cities’ positions, while less affluent areas have seen weaker performances, with Sunderland, Swansea and Middlesbrough and Stockton at the bottom of the pile.

However, it is some of these areas at the lower end of the list that have seen the biggest improvements. For example, Middlesbrough & Stockton is in joint seventh position in the biggest improvers list with a score increase of 0.17.

Highest ranking cities:

  1. Oxford: 1.02
  2. Reading: 0.97
  3. Southampton: 0.79
  4. Edinburgh: 0.72
  5. Bristol: 0.69
  6. Milton Keynes: 0.60
  7. Cambridge: 0.60
  8. Coventry: 0.60
  9. Leicester: 0.59
  10. Swindon: 0.57

The right direction

John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC, said: “The UK has been a great job-creating machine in recent years and this has driven improvement in our good growth index this year across all major UK cities.”

Topping the list of most improved cities compared to the previous index are Birmingham and Leeds, with scores of 0.19 each, both of which saw vast improvements after slashing their unemployment rates between 2013 and 2016.

The next three top improvers – Leicester with a 0.18 score increase, Newcastle (0.17) and Southampton (0.17) – also saw reductions in their levels of unemployment which led to their heightened scores, and Southampton also boasted improvements in new business and income distribution.

In May last year, new metro mayors were appointed in six areas, including Birmingham, Middlesbrough and Liverpool, which PwC believes is part of the reason they all appeared in the top 10 most improved list in the latest findings, as well as the devolution that has begun to take place in such areas over the last few years.

Top improvers (by score increase)

  1. Birmingham: 0.19
  2. Leeds: 0.19
  3. Leicester: 0.18
  4. Newcastle: 0.17
  5. Southampton: 0.17
  6. London: 0.17
  7. Middlesbrough & Stockton: 0.17
  8. Wolverhampton & Walsall: 0.17
  9. Liverpool: 0.16
  10. Derby: 0.15

Room for improvement

Nine Combined Authorities were also analysed in this year’s report, including Greater Manchester, Sheffield City Region, West Yorkshire and Liverpool City Region. Interestingly, the results found that all Combined Authorities except Cambridgeshire & Peterborough scored above average for income distribution, while all except the same region received a below average score for owner occupation.

But with owner occupation rates and work-life balance seeing an overall decrease in this year’s results, Hawksworth added: “There has been a price to pay for this in terms of worsening housing affordability, increased average commuting times and more people having to work long hours.”

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