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…And after that? Not many people can pick the next largest, or list all the cities in England with populations over 250,000, or even make a good guess at how many there are.
This is more than just a quiz question for urban obsessives. The largest cities outside the big nine make a serious contribution to the national economy. As a group they have a combined population of 8.9 million people, compared to 8.8 million living in the Core Cities and 9.4 million in London. They account for 14 per cent of England’s GVA, also comparable to the economic output of the Core Cities. As a group, mid-sized cities are clearly an important part of the economic jigsaw.
Centre for Cities has looked beyond the big nine to analyse the collective significance of ‘mid-sized cities’ to the national economy. Mid-Sized Cities: Their Role in England’s Economy analyses a group of 26 cities with populations ranging from just over 500,000 (Bradford) to a very little below 250,000 (Derby and Milton Keynes). We have measured their size using the real built-up area of each city which included, where necessary, more than one local authority. The map below shows the cities that fall into this size band. It also shows the average distance travelled to work in each of the mid-sized cities, showing how far their influence spreads. Between them, they drive local economies right across England.
Average distance travelled to work in England’s mid-sized cities
Our analysis echoes recent research from the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD). It suggests that the role of mid-sized cities is underappreciated. While the largest cities are big growth drivers, smaller cities and their regions contributed 43 per cent of the growth in OECD member countries between 1995 and 2007.
As you would expect given such a large group the mid-sized cities differ from one other. They have very different types of economy; some are thriving and successful whilst others are performing below average. They also perform varied roles in their local economies: some form part of larger city regions; some interact with each other; others are the focus of entire regional economies. Despite this diversity the cities within the group share economic characteristics and challenges and would benefit from sharing ideas and solutions.
While the current City Deals process represents a welcome move towards developing policies that suit the differing context and circumstances in each city, it is no surprise that mid-sized cities are not seen as a group by government. Yet there are potential advantages to collective engagement. The Core Cities have shown the way, grouping together to help each other and government, sharing ideas, lobbying together and providing a single voice on essential economic policy issues. Together, their scale means their economic contribution and potential cannot be ignored. Neither can the contribution of mid-sized cities.
Government and cities need to work together to maximise the growth prospects of places that play a significant economic role. Mid-sized cities have issues in common, which could be addressed more efficiently and effectively through co-ordinated engagement with government. Working with each other, they can make policy links between similar places, seek out shared agendas and avoid the need to reinvent the wheel. A strong voice for cities that are currently too easy to ignore would enhance local growth prospects and help some of our largest places to prosper.
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