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The seven most interesting maps and charts from the Centre for Cities’ latest survey of urban Britain

Yesterday, while everyone was distracted by the chaos surrounding Brexit – again – the government sneaked out some remarkably crappy financial news for councils. Again.

In some ways, this was not the best timing, as the Centre for Cities had just published the latest edition of Cities Outlook, its annual report of the state of Britain’s cities, and well, the news is, hmmm. One key fact to summarise the report’s tone: in 2009-10, the last year before austerity kicked in, only four of the 62 cities it analyses, spent most of their budgets on social care; now, more than half of them do.

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So, we’re stuffed.

The report includes a whole bunch of other upsetting facts:

  • Since austerity began, Britain’s cities have seen a total funding cut of £386 per head, compared to £172 in the rest of Britain. (A quick note here: by “cities”, the report means Primary Urban areas, groups of councils representing their economic footprint.)
  • The largest cuts were in the north, where they averaged 20 per cent of their budgets. Oooh I am surprised.
  • Actually surprising, though, was that London also saw huge cuts: despite being home to just 16 per cent of the population, it swallowed 30 per cent of all council cuts.
  • Other southern English cities, by contrast, were less badly hit; they’ve also been more likely to find other sources of money, such as charging for certain services.

Taking these last three together, it’s hard to avoid a sneaking suspicion there’s some politics going on here. What London and northern cities have in common is Labour dominance; most southern cities are Tory. The motivation here is not necessarily quite as naked as that suggests – it’s likely that populations that tend to vote Labour will have other things in common, too – but nonetheless, it feels a lot like a government that’s protected its own voters while attacking everyone else.

But you’re not here for the stats are you? You’re here for the maps. So here are some of the best ones.

Towns need successful cities

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This one shows the productivity of cities (the bigger blobs) and unemployment in towns (the smaller ones). What do you notice?

For me, it’s the tendency for colours of nearby blobs to be the same: in other words, highly productive cities tend to have low unemployment towns in their hinterland.

The message here seems to be: stop suggesting that economic policy is focusing on cities at the expense of towns. They need each other.

Pretty much everyone’s seen a spending cut

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By my count, there are exactly two cities that have seen spending rises: Oxford and Luton. In every other city, spending has been cut.

Generally, the biggest cuts – those shown here in lighter colours – have hit northern cities such as Doncaster, Wakefield and Liverpool. The very worst hit of all has been Barnsley, where spending has fallen by over 40 per cent.

Cities are under more financial pressure than the rest of the country

On both social care and other services, spending on cities is tracking lower than it is in the rest of country.

Jolly good.

There’s no obvious correlation between the state of a city’s economy and the depth of its cuts

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I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but the striking thing here is the lack of a pattern: heavy cuts fallen on both thriving and struggling cities. Hmm.

Some councils are getting commercial

This is more common in the south, though there are notable exceptions (Oxford, Blackburn) to the pattern:

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“There are questions about whether it is advisable for the public sector to be moving into property investment or charging f or a greater share of the services they provide,” the report says. Quite.

The most productive city in Britain is not where you think

You’re a CityMetric reader. You probably have some idea of the economic geography of Britain, right? There’s a north/south divide, Scotland is doing its own thing, there are pockets of productivity in the historic university towns, but basically all economic activity pointing towards London?

Well: from this year’s Cities Outlook I learned that, in 2017, Cambridge was less productive than… Basildon.

More strikingly still, the most productive city of all in Britain in 2017 was…

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..Slough.

John Betjeman must be turning in his grave.

You can read the full Cities Outlook 2019 report here.


 
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