02Central London shows what more successful Manchester and Birmingham city centres should mean for the rest of their cities

This suggests that the prosperity generated in the city centres doesn’t provide benefits across the wider city areas, and a strategy focusing on improving the city centre economies of each will do little for places like Oldham and West Bromwich.

But as Centre for Cities has previously shown, while the city centres of both places have gone through a huge turnaround in recent decades and are now home to many thousands of knowledge-based jobs (Manchester city centre had more than doubled its output in real terms between 1998 and 2019, while Birmingham city centre was 80 per cent bigger), they are too small.3 And this limits the amount of prosperity they are able to spread to residents across the city and beyond.

Undertaking the same analysis for London, which has a much larger city centre economy, shows this. Central London plays a much more prominent role in the city’s economy, accounting for 42 per cent of all of the city’s output in 2019, compared to 18 per cent in Manchester and 15 per cent in Birmingham. As Figure 3 shows, this much stronger performance generates prosperity for a much larger area. Applying the Manchester share of commuting into the centre as the cut off (using the London average would wash out the effect) shows that most of the city (and indeed many towns beyond it) benefits from this. More than 90 per cent of London’s working residents fall in this catchment, compared to 47 per cent in Birmingham and 35 per cent in Manchester. This means that expanding the size of the city centre economies of Manchester and Birmingham is an important part of increasing the access to prosperity that people living across those two cities have.

Figure 4: How central London provides prosperity for the wider city

Source: ONS; Census 2011

Note: The map uses the average commuting figure into Manchester city centre for the commuting cut off. The average share of residents commuting to the city centre was much higher in London because central London is more successful, and using the central London figure would mask the effect being demonstrated.


  • 3 Swinney P (2021), So you want to level up? London: Centre for Cities