Cities Outlook 1901: Unique look into the economic heritage of urban Britain shows that the Government must focus on skills now or pay later

The first comprehensive analysis of city economies in 1901 shows how urban Britain has evolved since the turn of the twentieth century.  Cities Outlook 1901, a research project by the Centre for...

Press release published on 11 July 2012

The first comprehensive analysis of city economies in 1901 shows how urban Britain has evolved since the turn of the twentieth century.  Cities Outlook 1901, a research project by the Centre for Cities, captures how life in our cities has changed for the people living there.

Cities Outlook 1901 highlights the extent of the long term scarring effect that poor skills can have on a city and the people who live there.  The research shows that the skills spectrum across cities in 1901 is mirrored in their economic strength today.  Seven out of eight of the best performing cities today had above average skills levels in 1901; while 80% of cities with vulnerable economies in 2012 fall into the bottom 20 cities for skills levels in 1901.

The research, which uses Census data to understand the economic stories of our cities in 1901, also compares how cities have progressed across measures like population, employment, and wages to understand how some cities have become more successful than others.

The report shows that investment in infrastructure and other drivers of growth have helped some cities buck the trend.  Cities such as Preston, Warrington and Swindon have progressed much more quickly than others in spite of their economic background.  Warrington, for example, has a much more highly skilled population now than in 1901. It was in the bottom 5% of cities for skills at the turn of the century. Today, the skills profile of its residents has improved significantly and it now falls within the top 20% of cities for skills.  But why is this?

One of the similarities between these cities is that they benefited from investment in infrastructure, with two of them – Warrington and Preston – designated New Towns.  A key element of this programme was infrastructure; roads, railways and homes.  Where this was targeted effectively, it enabled movement of skilled workers between neighbouring cities and as the cities expanded they became more attractive as a business location.

The following tables show which cities saw the greatest positive change on the Cities Outlook indicator from 1901 to 2011 and which cities saw the reverse.  The index is compiled by measuring the economic performance of cities across various indicators:

Cities Outlook 1901

Cities Outlook 1901 has significant implications for Government and policy makers.  It illustrates that short term cuts in expenditure on the policies that support cities to boost skills, from education to transport infrastructure, are likely to result in a big bill for government in the medium to longer term.

Government needs to sustain investment in the areas where policy can make a difference to people’s life chances.  This means directing money into the education system now to ensure that children and young people are being prepared for the world of work.  A focus on core skills such as numeracy and literacy is imperative.  Cities should also work with providers to ensure that courses are responsive to the needs of the modern economy.

Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities said,

Cities Outlook 1901 provides a unique window through which to observe how far our cities have come since the turn of the twentieth century.

“History tells us that failure to invest in city economies has long term effects for the UK economy.  The Government needs to preference the policies that support cities to grow – the research shows that skills and transport in particular can shape the economic health of a city.  Ensuring the education system prepares children for the world of work when they leave school is vital for those children and for the future health of the UK economy.

If the Government holds back on investing in these fundamental policies now, history shows that it will pay later.”


For further information or to request an interview, please contact Rachel Tooby, External Affairs Manager at Centre for Cities on 020 7803 4316 / 07748 183 026 /

Notes to Editors

The Centre for Cities is very grateful for the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for this independent report.  Except where otherwise indicated, all views expressed are those of the Centre for Cities and do not necessarily reflect those of the HLF.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage.  HLF has supported more than 30,000 projects, allocating £4.9 billion across the UK.

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