1. Economics
September 22, 2016updated 02 Aug 2021 9:36am

The vast majority of British cities are less productive than the European average

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. 

Today sees the publication of a major new report from those chaps at the Centre for Cities. “Competing with the continent” compares the economies of Britain’s cities with those elsewhere in Europe.

There’s a lot to unpack in there – the report examines 330 cities across 17 countries, including 62 in the UK – and it comes with a whole new database, too. So we’re going to be coming back to this one over several weeks.

But the headline conclusion – the key message, the thing you need to take away from this write-up – is this: Things are bad. Things are really, very bad.

Here, to brighten your day, is a litany of badness:

Fewer than one in 10 British cities are more productive than the European average. Just six out of 62, in fact: London, four cities that are essentially satellites of the capital (Reading, Milton Keynes, Aldershot, and, unexpectedly, Slough), and oil-rich Aberdeen.

The other 52 – the vast majority of British cities – are less productive than the European average. In fact, well over half the UK cities examined – 38 out of 62 – are in the bottom quarter of the league table.

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To put this another way: outside the rich south east, the productivity of Britain’s cities is closer to those of East Germany or Western Poland than to those of France or Spain. Look:

Click to expand.

The UK is also more reliant on a handful of rich cities than other major European nations. London is responsible for 25 per cent of the UK economy; Paris contributes 20 per cent of the French one, and Berlin just 4 per cent of the German one. It’s hard to see this as a good thing.

In what probably isn’t a coincidence, more than three-quarters of UK cities (48 out of 62) have a lower proportion of high-skilled residents than the European average, too:

Click to expand.

In other words – the Centre for Cities doesn’t quite put it this way, but I’m damned well going to – by European standards, the UK is no longer a rich country. It’s a middle income country with a couple of rich regions in it.

Still, I’m sure Brexit will sort that out in no time.

There’s loads more in this report – seriously, it’s going to keep us busy for ages – but we’ll save that for future weeks.

For now, though, we’ll end with a map that the Centre for Cities made for us specially. (You lucky people.) It shows 62 British cities with the name of their  “twin”: the European city whose economic structure is most similar. So Amsterdam and London are both big cities with diverse service economies; Groningen and Cambridge are both small, university cities with a lot of high-end manufacturing.

Click to expand.

But there’s a catch. You can probably guess what it is. From the report:

Using this index shows that 46 of the 62 UK cities have a lower productivity than their ‘twin’ city. This means that, for a similar economic structure, these cities produce less output per worker than their nearest comparator. For example, despite their similar economic structure, productivity in Manchester is 35 per cent lower than in Hamburg.

Here’s the map. It’s probably the only time you’ll ever see Sheffield compared with Nice. Enjoy.

Click to expand.

You can read the full report here.

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

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