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Economy / Jobs

How does the economy of Liverpool compare with similar cities?

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 story so far. Britain was the first country in the world to industrialise, and through a combination of ingenuity, natural resources and strategically deployed gunships managed to become the world’s leading economic power. Then in the 20th century things went a tiny bit wrong and many of our leading cities fell horribly behind.

Then in September the Centre for Cities published its “Competing with the Continent” report, which allows you to directly compare British cities to those of similar size and industrial structure elsewhere on the continent, and that brings us bang up to date.

I used this tool to compare Birmingham with similar large, diverse cities last week. Today, since it’s somewhere I’ve been thinking about a lot recently – and since I keep stumbling upon figures which suggest that, even as post-industrial cities go, port cities have been hit hard by modernity – I thought I’d try Liverpool. (To be specific, the Centre for Cities’ definition of Liverpool’s is contains those bits of Merseyside which lie north of the river, but not the Wirral. I don’t make the rules.) 

First up, here’s a map of the cities that the Centre thinks Liverpool is most like:

With the exception of Dortmund, there’s definitely a port theme going on. The inclusion of Nice is a bit leftfield, but the parallels with Rotterdam are so well-known that they popped up in the chorus of a 1996 single by the Beautiful South:

What’s the similarity between these places? Partly it’s a matter of size…

…and partly that of industrial structure: big public sector, lot of business services, not much manufacturing:

So how does the economy compare? Well, not so great. Here’s GVA per worker – a measure of productivity; basically how much wealth is generated for every job:

Liverpool is way, way down the near the bottom of the chart (254th out of 330). Rotterdam is a whole 30 per cent more productive.

It ranks better, but not much better, on patent applications:

On employment, it’s in the middle of the table:

It’s got a pretty low proportion of high-skilled people:

It makes up for that by having one of the largest low-skilled populations in Europe:

These last two graphs should not be seen as an attack on the educational system in Liverpool, which apart from anything else has several fine universities. The problem is Britain’s internal brain drain, in which so many people born or educated in the north end up moving south for work.

According to the Centre for Cities’ chief executive Alexandra Jones, as many as a third of the graduates who leave Britain’s universities each year end up moving straight to London – and it’s cities like Liverpool that suffer for it.

There are more ways of comparing city economies on the Centre for Cities’ Liverpool fact sheet here.

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

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