Business news

UK Regional City report identifies Belfast as ‘Booming’

Posted By:
OCO Global

27th Jun 2024

A study examining growth trends of 11 regional UK cities over the past decade has found that Belfast enjoyed the fastest growth in GDP per head (47% between 2013-2022). The city also punched above its weight in inward investment, attracting over 31,000 jobs. Not everyone, however, has benefitted with the city ranked tenth for growth in Gross Household Disposable income per head.

OCO Global’s ‘Local Heroes’ report examined 37 data points covering economic, prosperity, wellbeing, property and educational trends over the past decade. The cities were ranked as Top Tier (Edinburgh), Booming (Belfast, Manchester and Bristol), Solid Performers (Cardiff, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle) and Moderates (Birmingham, Sheffield and Nottingham).

The top performing cities for each sector were Edinburgh (economy, wellbeing and prosperity) and Bristol (education and prosperity). The lowest ranked were Edinburgh (property), Sheffield (economy and education), Newcastle and Nottingham (prosperity) and Birmingham (wellbeing).

The study also found that while economic performance was improving across the 11 cities, unequal distribution of funding from Westminster and a lack of city-level control over how funding is being spent is exacerbating rather than redressing regional inequalities.

The report found wide disparity in the amount of money each city received from Levelling Up, City Deals and Shared Prosperity funds. Of the £6bn allocated from these sources, ‘Boomers’ received on average £748 per head compared to £420 for Solid Performers and just £133 for Moderates. Edinburgh received £616 per head, due primarily to less money being provided through the Levelling-Up fund.

The report concluded that although there was no one model for successful city growth, the best performing cities were those which combined high levels of funding with effective devolved powers.

Mark O’Connell, Executive Chairman of OCO Global, said:

“Levelling-up policies are meant to redress decades of structural imbalance between UK regions, but the study suggests that the way funding is allocated is actually helping exacerbate those inequalities.

“Funding tends to go to cities which are best at applying for it rather than those with the most need. It gives a further advantage to already booming cities which can demonstrate they are successful at spending funds.

“This centralised funding system isn’t giving enough consideration to unique local challenges, or the different areas different cities excel in. If we really want to unlock cities’ potential, we need to match political devolution with economic devolution and give elected mayors the authority and resources to make long-term plans to meet the needs of their economy and citizens. A good example of this is Manchester’s decision to successfully take the city’s transport system back into public hands.”

The eleven cities chosen were a combination of regional capitals, city regions incorporating multiple local authorities working together and other key cities. Edinburgh stood out for high levels of productivity, income, employment and health while Greater Manchester attracted the most international investment.

Birmingham has both the largest student population and the highest proportion of people without qualifications while wellbeing issues were found to be hampering growth in Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle. Nottingham had one of the smallest economies, but the study suggests that lower house prices and office rental costs alongside a large and growing university base could be the basis of a compelling offer to investors.

Mr O’Connell added:

“While there is undoubtedly a strong correlation between funding and success, cities also have their own agency. Although they need to ask why funding isn’t being distributed equally, cities with proactive policies to improve connectivity and wellbeing, enhance skills and inclusiveness in the workplace, and promote themselves as investor-friendly can succeed.

“All of the cities in the report grew, but they excelled in different areas. Consequently, there is no one-size-fits-all-strategy to deliver growth. Rather than wait for Westminster to provide a lead, city authorities need to identify their own regional strengths and weaknesses, ensure that elected mayors have more discretion to allocate money locally and develop bespoke growth strategies.”