The Midlands Engine – a pan-regional partnership spanning from Lincolnshire to the Welsh border – makes a significant contribution to the UK economy. Figure 1 shows that it accounts for 15 per cent of the UK’s total jobs, even though it covers 11 per cent of the UK’s land area.

Figure 1: The role of the Midlands Engine in the British Economy

Source: ONS Census (2021), ONS Regional gross value added (balanced) by industry: local authorities by NUTS1 region (2021), ONS Business Register and Employment Survey (2021)

That said, while it accounts for 15 per cent of total employment, it only accounts for 13 per cent of the UK’s GVA. This points to the relatively low productivity levels across the area.

This report provides a study of the Midlands Engine to better understand the geography of its economy, and sets out recommendations on how to increase its productivity and contribute to the Government’s goals of growing the UK’s ‘innovation industries’1 and the levelling up agenda.

The report first establishes the framework used to investigate the performance of different parts of the Midlands Engine and explains why the two types of exporting activity – manufacturing and service exports – drive the performance of local economies while having distinct needs.

This framework is then used to explain why different parts of the Midlands Engine play different roles in its economy, as well as the relationships between them (the geographies used are defined in Box 1). It then looks at the relative performance of each of these areas and explains patterns of underperformance, before making policy recommendations to improve the performance of the Midlands Engine economy and the national economy.

Box 1: Geographic definitions used within the Midland Engine in this report

Centre for Cities uses the primary urban areas (PUA) definition of cities and large towns to capture the built-up footprint of an urban economy to get a consistent measure of these economies. PUAs are calculated by using the ONS’ built-up area definitions, which capture the continuous built-up footprint of a settlement, and cross checking these with travel to work areas. It then uses the threshold of a daytime population over 135,000 to identify the UK’s 63 largest areas.

In the Midlands Engine, this means Derby is defined as Derby local authority area because the built-up footprint of the city fits within the core local authority boundaries. This is the same for Telford and Coventry. For other cities in the Midlands Engine, this is clearly not the case, and they include several local authorities:

  • Birmingham – Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton
  • Leicester – Leicester, Blaby, Oadby and Wigston
  • Mansfield – Mansfield, Ashfield
  • Nottingham – Nottingham, Broxtowe, Erewash, Gedling,
  • Stoke – Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-Under-Lyme

The areas within these definitions very clearly have their own civic identities, but as urban economies they are unified.

That said, the next section looks at the whole of the Midlands Engine through the geography of medium super output areas (MSOAs), which are sub-local authority geographies. Through this it is possible to see the relative contributions that places like Wolverhampton make to the Midlands Engine economy. Some smaller separate urban areas with daytime populations between 40,000 and 135,000, including Lincoln and Worcester, are discussed in Box 5.

In addition, the analysis in this report splits the Midlands Engine into four distinct areas: city centres, suburbs, hinterlands and rural areas.

Cities are split into two areas:

  • City centres are defined as the area within a circle from the pre-defined city centre point. The radius of the circle depends on the size of the resident population of a city:
    • Large cities of Birmingham and Nottingham– radius of 0.8 miles.
    • Medium and small cities of Leicester, Derby, Stoke, Coventry, Telford, and Mansfield – radius of 0.5 miles.
  • Suburbs are defined as the rest of a city.

Non-city areas are also split into two:

  • Urban hinterlands which are considered to fall within the travel-to-work area of cities. This varies from city to city and is determined by the average distance that a worker living outside of a city travels to get to their job in the city.
  • Rural areas make up the remaining part of the physical landmass of the Midlands Engine area and fall outside of the travel catchment of cities and large towns. Some smaller urban areas, such as Lincoln or Skegness, that are far away from larger urban areas will fall into this definition.


  • 1 Hansard HC Deb. vol.729 cols.834-847, 15 March 2023.