High street / Leeds city scape

What determines the performance of a high street?

Home to many hundreds of thousands of jobs, Leeds plays a central role in Yorkshire's economy. But just how reliant are high streets in the city's surrounding towns on its success?

Briefing published on 27 June 2023 by Paul Swinney

Two main factors drive the success of a place’s high street: the strength of the economy in that place and the strength of other places within commutable distance.

Take Leeds. Home to many hundreds of thousands of jobs, Leeds accounts for around 36 per cent of all economic output in its wider area. In particular, it is a centre of high-knowledge production, benefiting not just residents in the city but also those living around it.

Recent ONS data indicates the wages of workers in Leeds were higher than the wages of its residents. This tells us that higher-paid jobs in Leeds were disproportionately being done by people who lived outside of the city.

Figure 1: Leeds provides prosperity to its wider area through access to high-paid jobs

Source: ONS

Data shows:

  • Residents of most of the surrounding towns and villages of Leeds have higher average incomes than Leeds residents.
  • The higher the share of working residents who commuted to Leeds the higher the incomes of people living in these towns and villages.

Combining this data with the findings from Figure 1 suggests that the stronger the commuting links with Leeds, the more prosperous a surrounding town is. Without access to outside job opportunities, places with smaller local economies of their own and more retail-dominated town centres might find themselves in a more precarious position. However, the access to higher-skilled, higher-paid jobs Leeds offers puts money in commuters’ pockets, playing a central role in driving local consumption and helping high streets in the city’s surrounding towns thrive.

In brief, a strong Leeds benefits the wider area and policy should be supporting its continued success as a centre of the knowledge economy.

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