1. Economics
May 30, 2018

Britain’s mayoral cities are a step ahead in preparing for the rise of the robots

By Elena Magrini

In this year’s Cities Outlook report, we looked at how cities’ labour markets will be affected by the rise of automation and other trends. We found that not only are more northern cities at greater risk of job losses as a result of future changes to the world of work: the jobs growth they will see in future will tend to be lower-skilled than in southern cities.

This is also true for mayoral authorities. In terms of jobs at risk of disappearing, there is a slight geographical divide. Mayoral authorities in the North and Midlands have a higher share of jobs at risk of displacement than the national average (which is 21.4 per cent per cent), with over 23 per cent of jobs at risk in both the West Midlands and Tees Valley for example. By contrast, the West of England combined authority and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough are relatively more insulated from job losses, with 19 and 20.2 per cent of jobs at risk respectively.

Similarly, there are differences in types of jobs identified as likely to grow in the various mayoral authorities in the future. On the one hand, the two southern combined authorities are better placed to see growth in high-skill private sector occupations. In the West of England, approximately 30 per cent of existing jobs which are likely to grow in the future fall into this category, such as jobs in arts and media. That share is higher than one in three jobs in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, mainly driven by natural and social science professionals and engineering occupations.

By contrast, in the Liverpool City Region and Tees Valley, less than one in five of today’s jobs expected to grow is in high-skill private sector occupations – with most of the potential growth in publicly-funded occupations and lower skill private sector ones.

While these trends are similar to broader trends among cities across the country, what is different is that mayoral authorities – thanks to their devolution deals and metro mayors – are better placed to address these issues in a more tailored way that reflects their authority’s needs. In particular, mayoral authorities have got three extra tools in their pockets to deal with these challenges.

Firstly, metro mayors have greater control over a number of policy areas that can help them make their economy more attractive – for example by improving transport and addressing housing needs. The mayors can use these powers and the new Local Industrial Strategies to understand and address the main challenges their places face.

Secondly, mayoral authorities are also at an advantage compared to other areas in terms of their capacity to support people to respond to change. The devolution of the Adult Education Budget, although delayed to 2019, will give metro mayors more control over adult learning. It could also help address some of the problems caused by the ongoing changes in the world of work, for example by supporting people already in the workforce to adjust to an evolving labour market.

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Thirdly, mayoral authorities are better placed to secure further devolved powers and responsibilities. The Government has clearly shown a preference towards places with mayors in decisions about funding and policy, for example by directly allocating a part of the Transforming Cities Fund to the areas (while other non-mayoral cities will have to compete to access the fund). Furthermore, having a metro mayor in place will not only encourage the government to devolve more powers (and has already); it also means that mayoral authorities have a stronger voice representing them than other cities.

It’s clear that increased automation and globalisation will pose big challenges to all cities in the coming decades, and action will be needed to support people in urban areas to adapt and thrive in the face of change. However, it is also clear that mayoral authorities are already one step ahead in this process, and have greater tools – in terms of powers, resources and leadership – to address these changes.

It is now up to other big cities such as Leeds to decide whether they want to follow suit, or instead face these challenges with less of the powers and resources they need to make a difference.

Elena Magrini is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose website this article originally appeared.

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