Oxford, Reading, Southampton: Top three cities in UK, says PwC report

For the fourth year in a row, Oxford and Reading have been rated the top performing UK cities on PwC’s Good Growth for Cities 2019 index. Southampton also ranks highly, coming in third position.

The annual Good Growth for Cities 2019 index sets out to show there is more to life, work and general well being than simply measuring GDP. It measures the performance of 42 of the UK’s largest cities, England’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and ten Combined Authorities, against a basket of 10 factors which the public think are most important when it comes to economic well being. These include jobs, health, income and skills, as well as work-life balance, house-affordability, travel-to-work times, income equality, environment and business start-ups.

The South East has consistently performed strongly, with Oxford and Reading topping the index for the last four years, and Southampton and Cambridge frequently achieving a top 10 position.

This year’s index has shown strong income growth across the South East, as well as improvements in health, the environment and new businesses per head. Six out of eight cities in the South East have scored above the UK average.

Cambridge has reclaimed its position in ninth place, after it dropped out of the top 10 last year. The city has seen improvements in new businesses per head, jobs and incomes, and is increasingly focussed on unlocking the potential of the Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge Arc vision.

The placement of all South East cities featured within the index were:

South Eastern cities in index Place on index
Oxford 1
Reading 2
Southampton 3
Cambridge 9
Portsmouth 17
Brighton 20
Medway 27
Southend 33

 

The index has revealed some challenges for the South East, particularly the affordability of housing. All South East cities are below the index average for house price to earnings, suggesting the area is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Previous PwC research found that for those who can afford to buy a house in the South East, it will cost, on average, £34,000 extra to live near a top performing state primary school, and according to PwC’s UK Economic Outlook several key workers such as nurses and teachers are now being priced out of the rental market in the South East.

PwC partner and local government leader Jonathan House, commented: “In an era of political, technological and environmental disruption, cities and regions that want to get ahead, need to do things differently. Even with the uncertainty of Brexit, over the last year, local leaders have had significant success in delivering good growth in their cities and regions. Our research shows the need to take a comprehensive approach to growth, focusing on improving productivity to compete on a global stage, but also on ensuring fairness and inclusive growth so that people and places don’t feel left behind.

“Local leaders need to take a broad view on what economic success means, focusing on the outcomes they want to achieve in terms of inclusive growth, community resilience and improved experience, and crucially, having a plan to translate those ambitions into reality.

“Skills amongst the working age population, alongside the number of new businesses created, have seen the largest improvements; this is a result of leaders focusing on building new opportunities and investing in the talent of their city and region.

“The UK’s cities are known globally for their skills, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Our most successful cities know that they don’t compete against other UK cities, they compete against cities across Europe, the Middle East and the US. As the UK’s position on the world stage shifts, cities and regions will need to reposition themselves too, and consider how they can stand out and compete globally, improve productivity and support innovation, while also creating places that are fair and inclusive.”

The South East’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) also perform strongly, with seven out of 10 areas scoring above the UK average. The top four positions are made up by South East LEP’s – Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Enterprise M3 and Thames Valley Berkshire, driven by high scores in skills, jobs and incomes.

Keith Harrington, PwC South East regional leader, said: “It’s fantastic to see that Oxford, Reading and Southampton have ranked as the UK’s top performing cities for the third year in a row. It shows that despite changing business climates, South East cities are continuing to grow. At PwC we’ve been investing in our South East practice, recognising the huge opportunities the region presents.

“However, it’s important that cities across the South East continue to adapt and address the challenges facing them, particularly around housing affordability. This is an area that local governments, businesses and communities must address to ensure the region continues to remain attractive to investment and top talent. All of us who live, work and spend time in the region have a role to play in contributing to its future growth.”