What’s in store?

How and why cities differ for consumers

Good jobs and a strong economy are the keys to saving the high street

Report published on 12 September 2019 by Rebecca McDonald, Lahari Ramuni and Lizzy Tan

Good jobs and a strong economy are the keys to saving the high street


This report explores the relationship between city economies and the strength and diversity of their high streets and city centres.

It finds that stronger city economies create the high-skilled, high paying jobs needed to provide a consumer market for specialist and premium amenities such as restaurants and cultural pursuits.

It challenges the idea that we can revive the high street through direct interventions such as business rates cuts, online sales taxes, or cultural initiatives because these fail to address the fundamental reasons these economies are struggling: a lack of consumer spending power.

Instead, high street success is defined by those policies that create skills, jobs and quality office space for business


  • Cities are vibrant places where people go to spend time and money. Despite sometimes being characterised as dull job machines or simply playgrounds of the rich, this is not the reality.
  • Cities offer a more diverse set of amenities than other parts of the country. A trip to the theatre or a celebratory meal out is most likely to take place in a city, as nearly two-thirds of specialist amenities are located in cities.
  • Not all cities offer variety. There is a clear relationship between the economic strength of a city and the diversity of its amenity offer.
  • Cities with stronger economies house a richer set of amenities, with many specialist and premium options for consumers. In contrast, cities with weaker economies struggle to provide more than the necessities.
  • The limited spending power of those living and working in cities with weak economies leads to high vacancy rates on their high streets.


Cities with underperforming economies and high street vacancies should:

  • Improve the skills of the workforce by setting up skills compacts that bring together all stakeholders involved in education and training. A more qualified workforce will attract businesses that provide high-skilled job opportunities and boost the economy.
  • Invest in the consumer offering, but not as the primary tool for economic growth. Investments in amenities and culture have many public benefits and should be a part of each city’s development policies, but should not be the lead tool to attract businesses.
  • Remodel city centres away from a reliance on retail. They should provide offices for new jobs and reshape the high street away from retail and more towards food, drink and leisure.

Government should:

  • Ensure funding is open to investments that look beyond the high street. The priority for high streets should be to attract jobs, rather than improve the retail offer.
  • Funds such as the Future High Street Fund in England must accommodate a range of investments, including the provision of quality office space in city centres.
  • Put less weight on direct economic outcomes in decisions about cultural investment. Requiring that investments in culture and amenities aim for objectives such as job creation or local growth can distract from more feasible objectives.


We would like to thank the Nationwide Building Society for the support that has made this research possible.

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