The past 12 months have seen the UK economy enter its deepest recession on record. The result has been the highest ever number of redundancies and a sharp rise in the amount of people claiming unemployment benefits, with the unprecedented Job Retention Scheme (JRS) providing a cushion against further increases.1

The roll-out of vaccinations now allows the Government to switch its attention from sheltering the economy from the worst of Covid-19’s impacts to thinking about how to kick-start a recovery and ‘build back better’. An important measure of success will be the number of jobs that policies help to create.

Recent history shows this is possible. Covid-19 brought an abrupt end to the ‘jobs miracle’ that began in 2013 and generated more than 2.7 million net new private sector posts. In this period, the UK experienced much stronger jobs growth than most of the other G7 countries.2 But while it far exceeded expectations in terms of job creation, the national economy faltered in terms of productivity. Over the same period, productivity grew by just 2.3 per cent, comparable to only Italy within the G7.3

This is a concern not just for the UK economy, but for the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Many parts of the North trail the Greater South East because of their much weaker productivity performance, and it will not change until this is addressed.4

This report looks at the period from 2013 to 2019 to understand the pattern of growth seen in the private sector, which is very likely to be the driver of future growth, and how this varied across the country. It uses these insights to show what the Government needs to do to build back better, and what needs to change for it to achieve its levelling up goals.

Centre for Cities’ research, including this report, focuses the country’s largest cities and towns, defined as its primary urban areas (PUAs).5


  • 1 This work was produced using statistical data from ONS. This does not imply the endorsement of the ONS in relation to the interpretation or analysis of the statistical data. This work uses research datasets that may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates.
  • 2 The UK and the US both saw an increase in employment by more than 9 per cent compared with the G7 average of less than 8 per cent. ((OECD (2021), Employed population, aged 15 and over, all persons (indicator), (Accessed on 15 February 2021)).
  • 3 OECD (2021), GDP per hour worked (indicator), (Accessed on 20 January 2021)
  • 4 Swinney P (2018), The Wrong Tail? London: Centre for Cities
  • 5 See www.centreforcities.org/city-by-city/puas for definitions