1. Economics
September 29, 2016updated 02 Aug 2021 9:36am

This chart shows how badly Britain’s major cities are underperforming economically

By Jonn Elledge

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. 

The Centre for Cities’ new European data tool includes data on 330 cities in 17 countries. It is, if you’re me, very, very exciting.

Below is a chart showing the 26 cities in the database which have populations of over 1m. Note that on this definition – “cities and greater cities”, or primary urban areas in the UK – London is way out ahead of the pack. Take that Paris.

Click to expand.

The tool is not comprehensive: as the map at the top of this post shows, data covering several countries is missing, so there are several other cities in Europe with populations of over a million (Prague, Vienna, Belgrade) which aren’t in the database.

But, while this is not a definitive list of the largest cities in Europe, it is the lion’s share of them. So they’re worth comparing as a group.

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Here’s the same 26 cities, ranked this time, by their GVA per worker – effectively, how much economic value each employee produces. I’ve colour coded the cities by which side of the Iron Curtain they were on: the west in blue, the east in black; the three three UK cities are in red.

See if you spot any patterns.


Click to expand.

Berlin revels in the eye-rolling reputation for being “poor but sexy”. It’s not as poor as Manchester or Birmingham, however. Those two are as productive as Naples, a city which has been in the grip of organised crime for decades; and richer only than two cities in eastern Europe.

Even London – which we tend to think of as mega-rich – doesn’t rank that highly. It’s barely top-quartile: of the 26 cities shown here, London ranks 7th, behind cities including Dublin, Paris, Munich and Amsterdam, and only just above Rome.

Now – these figures are per worker, not per resident: if two cities of the same size have the same GVA, but different levels of unemployment, then the one where fewer people are in work is going to come out better on this measure.

Nonetheless, GVA per worker is a decent enough measure of productivity – how much value an average worker in a city can create. At risk of banging on about this: when you look at its cities, the British economy is really not nearly as good as we like to think it is.

The Silesian Metropolis, incidentally, is a funny name for Greater Katowice, in southern Poland. So there you go.

Here’s an interactive chart plotting GVA against population. There’s not any particular pattern, but if you hover over a dot, it’ll give you the figures. Enjoy.

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

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