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Two weeks on from the launch of Cities Outlook 2016, and the report – which examines how the Government’s plan to build a high-wage, low-welfare economy is playing out across UK cities – continues to generate debate and reaction across the media.
Much of the national and regional press coverage has focused on the report’s top-line finding that despite the jobs boom in UK cities since 2010, average urban wages fell by 5 per cent between 2010-2014. However, commentators have also explored some of the other diverse issues highlighted in the report’s analysis, ranging from housing and skills to devolution, inequality and Outlook’s implications for national and local politics.
One major issue highlighted in the report is the impact that housing shortages in high-wage cities are having in pushing up welfare spending. This was the focus of coverage in the Financial Times and the Independent, both of which examined the link between high housing demand in cities like Cambridge and Reading, and increasing housing benefits payments in those cities. The Daily Mail also looked at the causes of rising welfare spending, while in an article for ConservativeHome, I argued that addressing the need for more affordable homes in successful cities will be crucial in enabling those places to continue to thrive in future.
Another popular topic in the coverage of Outlook was the report’s findings about the economic divide across the country, with the vast majority of high-wage cities located in the South East, while most low-wage cities are in the North and Midlands. This was the emphasis of the Guardian’s article on the report, which prompted a number of letters from readers on the issue. The North/South divide was also picked up across the Atlantic, with the Brookings Institution blogging about the lessons that US policy-makers could take from our analysis of efforts to rebalance the UK economy, while my piece for LabourList argued that addressing skills-gaps will be vital in tackling these geographical disparities as the Northern Powerhouse – still only 18 months old – takes shape.
A number of media outlets chose to focus on Outlook’s findings about particular cities. Interestingly, the Daily Telegraph, the Economist and The Week all concentrated on the report’s revelation that Slough is home to the highest number of new businesses of any UK city over the past five years. Meanwhile, BBC Breakfast put Blackburn in the spotlight, highlighting local efforts to boost the city’s economy, while BBC News Online focused on the fact that Hull has the lowest average weekly resident wages in the UK. The Big Issue took a different approach, highlighting Warrington as ‘a leading light of the Northern Powerhouse’, while the Guardian examined the obstacles that places like Liverpool face in attracting more high-skilled, innovative jobs and businesses.
The report also prompted a great deal of reflection among local leaders and regional newspapers on the challenges their cities face, depending on the strengths and weaknesses of their local economy.
The report also encouraged debate among Labour MPs about how best to respond to its findings. In a piece in the New Statesmen, John Ashworth MP argued that the report highlighted the shortcomings of the Government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ initiative. In contrast, however, Jonathan Reynolds MP argued on LabourList that the Party should not be complacent about the Government’s record, and must be bolder than the Government in its policies on devolution.
Here at Centre for Cities we hope that Cities Outlook 2016 will continue to inform debate over the coming year on how national and local policy-makers can help low-wage cities fulfil their economic potential, while supporting high-wage places to continue to grow. Over the next 12 months, we will be exploring some of the key issues highlighted in the report – including next steps for devolution, the housing crisis, and how to help UK cities compete with their international counterparts – so watch this space for more details.
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