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Cities Outlook 2024

With 2024 a likely election year, this year's Cities Outlook looks back at how cities have fared since 2010 and where the economy would be today had pre-2010 trends continued.

Report published on 22 January 2024

Cities Outlook, our annual health check of the economic performance of urban Britain, offers a deep dive into the latest economic data on how UK cities are performing against a range of indicators including innovation, housing, skills, employment and productivity.

In a general election year where growth will be central to the debate, Cities Outlook 2024 has a special focus on the economic performance of cities since 2010. It contrasts this performance to the 1998-2010 period, assessing how cities would have fared had pre-2010 trends continued and what this means for the party that forms the next government.

Cities Outlook 2024 finds that:

  • Jobs: All but two places saw jobs growth, with 4 million new jobs created by 2022 – considerably more than the 2.5 million added between 1998-2010
  • Productivity: Productivity growth – the key driver of higher wages – was poor across almost all cities. Nationally, average annual productivity increased at just 0.6 per cent in real terms between 2010-2021 – particularly sluggish compared to the average annual growth of 1.5 per cent seen between 1998-2010
  • Housing affordability: Already an issue in 2010, housing costs have significantly worsened. This is true across almost every UK city, with cities in the Greater South East where the crisis is most acute seeing the steepest rises
  • Disposable income: This combination of poor productivity growth and worsening housing affordability has squeezed disposable income growth. At the national level, people are on average £10,200 worse off than if the economy had grown at its pre-2010 trajectory. In cities such as Burnley, Cambridge and Milton Keynes it’s more than £20,000.
  • Poverty: Jobs growth has lifted many households out of absolute poverty since 2014. But the proportion of children in relative poverty has risen in every city except Belfast and Basildon, and in-work poverty is up almost everywhere, suggesting low income households have been hit hardest by weak growth

While almost all places are better off than they were in 2010, if pre-2010 trends had continued, the UK economy would be £88 billion (4.6 per cent) larger. Meanwhile Britain’s north-south divide has continued to widen, with the Greater South East’s share of UK jobs, output and income increasing still further. In 2010, 38.9 per cent of all jobs were in the Greater South East. By 2022 this had risen to 40.9 per cent.

Post-election, Government should pursue place-based policies that learn from the best policies of the last 14 years and develop them.

Specifically, the next government should:

  • Stick with the levelling up agenda and its focus on underperforming major cities outside of London, backed by a multidecade policy programme akin to the German reunification project
  • Introduce the next phase of devolution, building on the Trailblazer devolution deals by passing fiscal powers to London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, while addressing funding challenges faced by local government
  • Reform the planning system, building on steps taken in the 2023 Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. Move planning to a rules-based approach, replacing the existing discretionary, case-by-case system that has produced a backlog of 4.3 million homes


More from Cities Outlook 2024

Cities Outlook 2024

22 January 2024

Join Centre for Cities for an in-depth look at the findings of Cities Outlook 2024, our annual health check of the UK's cities.


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