The Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index ranks 50 of the UK’s largest cities (generally considered those with populations of at least 350,000 people), plus the London boroughs as a whole, based on the public’s assessment of 12 economic measures, including jobs, health, income, safety and skills, as well as work-life balance, housing, travel-to-work times, income equality, high street shops, environment and business start-ups.
Maintaining its position at the top of the rankings, the most significant improvement for Oxford this year was seen in skills for 16- to 24-year-olds. Other economic measures, such as income, employment rates and life expectancy, helped the city maintain first place, while other South East cities also ranked highly.
When measured against economic priorities chosen by the public, cities in the South East of the Index tend to perform above the national average, with the exception of Medway, which is the lowest-performing city ranking 40 out of 50 UK cities in the Index.
Across the country, Oxford, Swindon, Exeter, Bristol and Southampton make up the top five cities in the Index. Lower-performing cities include London, Bradford, Middlesbrough and Stockton, Birmingham and Manchester.
Julian Gray, South East market leader and Southampton senior partner at PwC, said: “It is fantastic to see Oxford leading the Index again this year, as it performs exceptionally well on income, employment rates and life expectancy skills, owner-occupier rates, the environment and safety. Oxford is an attractive place to invest as well as live, and as one of the UK’s most highly skilled and important city economies it contributes around £6.8 billion a year to the national economy.
“It is also very encouraging that many of our other cities, such as Reading and Southampton, perform above the UK average across indicators such as income, health, skills, safety and owner occupation. This is particularly encouraging as the region is expected to experience positive growth of 0.75% in 2024.
“Nevertheless, it is evident that regional inequalities persist. It is critical that we tackle the shortcomings of our region, such as housing and social mobility. This report outlines recommendations for policymakers and businesses, including the development of skills and investments to achieve sustainable and equitable green growth. It is more crucial than ever for local governments, businesses, and communities to collaborate in addressing these vital issues.
“At PwC, we recognise the vast prospects offered by the region, and it is the responsibility of all of us within the region to contribute to its future success and growth in the South East.”
The report shows Oxford has many assets to build on, but it has mature public/private sector partnerships ready to deliver better outcomes and a proactive approach to working with central government stakeholders. For example, collaboration with major institutions and businesses locally, like the universities and BMW, is central to working towards being a zero carbon city.
Key to this is a modal shift that will help ease congestion, help businesses and boost wellbeing, supporting an improved bus network and safer walking and cycling. Transport infrastructure improvements, such as Network Rail’s £160 million redevelopment of Oxford train station and the proposed reopening of the Cowley Branch Line, will improve connectivity to more deprived areas of the city while also providing betters links to existing and emerging science and innovation clusters, and unlocking more investment and affordable housing.
Greener energy solutions are also being explored. Project Local Energy Oxfordshire (LEO) is running trials to build a greener, more flexible, and fair electricity system. Meanwhile, Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO) provides a model for cities around the world to cut carbon and improve air quality.
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “I am delighted that Oxford has yet again been recognised for our strong economy. Oxford is a world leader in education, science and innovation, but we also recognise that we have an unequal distribution of prosperity across the city.
“As Oxford City Council, our vision is to ensure that our growing economy provides jobs and opportunities for everyone at every stage of their lives.
“This includes offering apprentices to local young people, encouraging more employers to pay the Oxford Living Wage, supporting small businesses to get started and grow and acting as an ‘anchor institution’ helping community groups to develop through the “Owned by Oxford” community wealth building initiative.”
Despite topping the rankings again, there are some challenges threatening to constrain economic growth and public wellbeing. Oxford is one of the UK’s most unaffordable cities, with similar housing, inequality and social mobility issues to London. There is also limited space available for new housing, holding back new commercial developments, as well as severe transport congestion issues.
The economic outlook for cities
While some cities, such as Oxford, Exeter and Swindon, perform well in the Index on economic measures, they are set to see some of the lowest economic growth across UK cities in 2023. For example, Oxford has an above-average share of economic activity within the professional, scientific and technical activities sectors, which are expected to contract during 2023 as financial pressures constrain spending.
In contrast, cities such as London, Liverpool and Belfast are set to break away from the sluggish economic growth expected in most cities, buoyed by high-growth sectors such as transportation and storage and arts and entertainment.
About the Good Growth for Cities Index
The Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index was established in 2011 and is updated annually. The Index looks beyond GDP and covers broad economic measures. These include jobs, health, income, safety and skills, work-life balance, housing, travel-to-work times, income equality, high street shops, environment and business start-ups.
The Index measures the performance of 50 of the UK’s largest cities, England’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and ten Combined Authorities against this basket of 12 factors, which the public think are most important to economic wellbeing.
Visit pwc.co.uk/goodgrowth to read the report.