Cities - The State we're in - 24 March 2006
Cities - The State we're in
Regeneration & Renewal - 24 March 2006
The State of the English Cities report paints a detailed portrait of our conurbations over the last 15 years. Ben Walker reports.
If Professor Michael Parkinson's snapshot of English city life were a painting, it would be rendered in bold hues by a precise brush on a broad canvas.
The State of the English Cities report took two years to produce, seven authors and nine advisers. The two volumes of statistics and studies on English city life contain 12 chapters, which chart in detail the English urban story. It cost the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister #500,000, and communities minister David Miliband called it "monumental".
Its message is heart-warming: problems persist, but the big cities are no longer the economic pariahs they once were. "Everyone thinks the industrial cities have improved," says Parkinson."But we've shown it."
There is a statistic in The State of the English Cities that might look innocuous to the untrained eye. Between 1997 and 2003, 6,000 more people settled in the city of Manchester than left it.
Six thousand souls is a modest influx. But put in context, it represents a turnaround of industrial proportions: the city haemorrhaged 26,600 people in the previous study period, 1991-1997. Manchester is an inner-city authority, and virtually all its suburbs lie outside the city boundary: these incomers were not professionals settling in Manchester's Cheshire suburbs for the quiet life, but people moving to the bustling city proper.
By contrast, four of the five other large cities which were once capitals of metropolitan counties - the 'met cities' of Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield - lost population in both study periods. Only Leeds, a vast local authority that, unlike Manchester, includes outlying and semi-rural neighbourhoods, gained people between 1991 and 1997. And even there, a net 1,100 left between 1997 and 2003. Manchester is the only met to have gained population since 1997.
"The rate of population growth in the last four years has been even greater," says Manchester City Council leader Richard Leese. "There's been a number of factors: regeneration projects like Hulme, and our work on the 24-hour city, which means getting people to live in the city, rather than just partying there. We've had people with a lot of entrepreneurial spirit here: Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash is a well-known figure, but there's others too, like property developer Carol Ainscow, who are perhaps less well known. There's been a couple of dozen of edgy and interesting people around who were willing to work with us."
Elsewhere in metropolitan England, the picture is less clear cut - but still encouraging. There was a net influx of 400,000 into London between 1997 and 2003: the city's growth is taken for granted today, but it was dying during the 1980s. "The most impressive feature of population change over the past two decades has been London's upward trajectory from decline to ... accounting for a third of national growth," the report says.
London's boom in the late 1990s did nothing to help stem the population loss in Newcastle and Liverpool, the industrial maritime cities on the edge of England, which found themselves almost out of reach of the capital's recovery. As annual population growth in the capital peaked at nearly 1.2 per cent in 1999, that in Newcastle and Liverpool bottomed out. Newcastle lost 19,600 people between 1997 and 2003; Liverpool lost 17,300. Yet even in these most difficult of territories, there is room for optimism. As London's growth cooled off, the rate of population decline in Liverpool and Newcastle between 2001 and 2003 slowed almost to a halt. In Sheffield and Birmingham, cities also unfamiliar with population growth, the decline was overturned. "All six mets experienced upturn during the end of the second period," the report says. "Compared with the opposite experience of London, this reflects the northward shift of the 'national' economic recovery from the South-East since the 1990s."
The boom in the capital has been immense and prolonged. Years before Labour came to power and 'Brown's Boom', London was already swinging again.
There was a net influx of 210,000 people between 1991 and 1997, and under Labour the Great Wen got greater still faster - a net 402,800 people arrived between 1997 and 2003. An extended honeymoon for the new Labour government may have set the cultural context for the spirit of renewal, but technical jobs and entrepreneurial vigour provided the necessary economic foundations.
The number of self-employed people in London grew by 14 per cent between 1991 and 2001 - a dramatic contrast to the mets, where growth was less than two per cent. Employment in London grew by 17 per cent between 1991 and 2003, compared with just ten per cent in the mets.
In the high pay, high value world of financial services, the growth was more balanced. Leeds, not London, was the best performing met, with 61.3 per growth in financial jobs between 1991 and 2003.
Financial employment in Reading, in England's increasingly siliconate Thames Valley, grew by 91.1 per cent - faster than anywhere else in the land. Even Liverpool - "so often grouped with Newcastle as the weakest of the mets", says the report - eclipsed its Tyneside sister to increase its financial services sector by 62.9 per cent. Indeed, the sector's growth in Newcastle, at 7.5 per cent, was lower than in distinctly unmetropolitan Portsmouth.
Meanwhile, in London financial services growth was a solid 41.6 per cent, adding to an already world-leading concentration of high-value financial jobs. The loss rate of manufacturing jobs in London was among the fastest in metropolitan England, but a wealth of service-based jobs appeared to replace them. Wages in London, already among the highest in Europe, grew by 33 per cent between 1998 and 2004, and by 2001 London had the highest proportion of graduates in its working age population (nearly 30 per cent) of any conurbation in the study besides the university city of Cambridge.
Meanwhile, London's pre-eminence in high-value creative industries such as design, publishing and fashion, in which ideas rather than goods are the chief export, earned the UK the moniker Cool Britannia. But in reality, the cool was a London thing. Creative industries employment grew by up to 3.6 per cent in the wider London conurbation, but didn't rise above 1.5 per cent in the northern mets - and in some, such as Newcastle, Birmingham and Sheffield, creative jobs were shed.
The report shows a correlation between the number of creative jobs in a city, and the level of productivity. "During the 1980s, London's productivity wasn't as good as some of the industrial cities," says Parkinson, "but it has shot up." Among the reasons for London's outstanding competitiveness, the report lists high skills, its chart-topping rate of business start-ups, and one more factor in which London leads the nation: diversity.
The journalist Rod Liddle observed in 2002 that it's London versus the rest. "Effete, pretentious, overpaid, and lacking a sense of community are the familiar insults," he says. "On almost every individual issue, Londoners think differently to the rest of the nation: gay rights, immigration, the monarchy, transport, capital punishment, the single European currency, and blood sports."
The statistics from the report seem to support Liddle's observation.
London is one of the most racially cosmopolitan cities in the world, but a lower proportion of its residents admit to being a "very" or "a little" racially prejudiced than in the more homogenous northern mets. In the urban north, more than a third of people concede they are racist to some extent, and a majority feel that racial prejudice will get worse in the next five years. In London, most think it will reduce or remain the same.
Segregation levels in the North have undoubtedly contributed to problems with prejudice, the report says. The segregation index shows how many people would have to move in order for there to be no segregation between white and non-white groups: in Blackburn, Bradford, Burnley and Rochdale, it is more than 65 per cent.
On the whole, segregation is in decline. But the Commission for Racial Equality warns against complacency: "Segregation is not just residential. It's about talking to Britons of different backgrounds and traditions. A mixed neighbourhood doesn't necessarily mean a mixed community."
On other social attitudes too, Londoners are different. Some 45 per cent feel attachment with Europe, compared with 30 per cent in the urban north.
And while Liddle noted that many provincial English feel the capital lacks a sense of community, the report suggests otherwise: Londoners are more likely to trust their fellow human than people from any other part of England. Some 43 per cent told researchers they felt "most people can be trusted", compared with only 35 per cent in the urban north, where levels of trust are at their worst.
The gap in employment rate between deprived areas and Great Britain as a whole narrowed between 2000 and 2004, partly as a result of more tailored skills schemes and employment initiatives. The New Deal, by which the Government subsidises employers to take on hard-to-employ groups, "has been effective in removing barriers to work", says the report - although it adds that Gordon Brown's tax credits have, despite frustration among the public with their bungled administration, had a greater impact.
Nevertheless, analysis of areas that really felt the chill of economic restructuring, such as the coalfields, show wild variations in the level of economic recovery. There is an important lesson for government in the report: initiatives to draw more people into the jobs market "can only do so much" in areas where the demand for labour is weak.
City governance is seen by Parkinson as key to city revival. Governance at the regional and city regional level has become "increasingly complex" over the last few decades, the report says, and government offices, regional development agencies and regional assemblies often have "different regional perspectives". Only in London, with its mayor, has city-wide governance become a reality.
"Leadership matters, and people admire what has happened in London," he says. "A mayor is not the only way of doing it, but we do need to look at other cities' powers and resources." Parkinson recommends policymaking focused on city-regions, rather than regions or local authorities, and urges more financial devolution for conurbations.
Parkinson is hopeful that some such policies will reach the statute books.
"This is one of the best moments to release (the report)," he says. "Change is more likely now that it was 20 years ago." The State of the English Cities, it seems, might be the seminal urban portrait to spark a new political movement.
- The State of the English Cities is available via www.regen.net/doc.
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