Introduction

In order for the Government to meet its goal of increasing the productivity of the national economy, it needs to make the most of our cities. Cities drive growth, accounting for over 60 per cent of economic output despite covering just 8 per cent of land. But not all cities are as well placed to grow as others, with some struggling to attract employers and so provide jobs.

The Fast Growth Cities group, comprised of Cambridge, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Swindon and Norwich, contains some of the UK’s most successful cities. These cities perform strongly on a range of economic indicators, including productivity and share of knowledge-based jobs. Their ability to attract these knowledge-based businesses puts them in a strong position to continue to grow in the future.

But these cities also face economic challenges that risk constraining their growth, namely high demand for investment in infrastructure, including significant pressure for housing and transport, and the need to increase the skills level of residents. If not addressed, these challenges have the potential to constrain growth in these cities. There is also a risk that if these infrastructure challenges negatively impact on the cities’ attractiveness to high knowledge firms and workers, these businesses may relocate to another country rather than a different UK location. As such, the impact of constrained growth in these five cities will be felt not just in the local area, but throughout the UK.

The Fast Growth Cities are committed to addressing the growth challenges they face. But often their efforts are restricted by nationally set polices that are not responsive to the specific opportunities and challenges they face. While there is a welcome growing focus on place-based policy, the emphasis to date has very much been on supporting the Northern Powerhouse and the Core Cities. There has been much less debate about the importance of cities such as those that form the Fast Growth Cities group.

To avoid constraining growth in these cities and the UK, the Government must act to give them the kind of tailored policy support that is currently available for big cities like Greater Manchester and Sheffield.

This report looks at the economic contribution of the Fast Growth Cities to the UK, highlighting their shared and distinctive economic characteristics that make supporting these cities important. It also examines the key barriers to growth the cities are increasingly facing, and that need to be overcome to allow these cities to continue to contribute to the UK economy at the rate they have been.