Analysing the UK’s North – South Divide

A new report shows the scale of the divide between economic development in the north and the south of Great Britain. The report, ‘Uneven growth: tackling city decline‘ reveals that although many Northern cities are growing, this growth often lags significantly behind national levels. The report was written for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) by geographers at the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) at Newcastle University.

Seventy four towns and cities with populations over 100,000 people were analysed for the study. Changes in employment rates, levels of highly qualified workers, the number and type of full-time jobs, net migration rates and changes in rank were all examined to derive an ‘index of relative decline’. The team at CURDS found that 10 out of 12 of the top struggling cities were in the north, with no city in the south featuring in the top 12 or in the top 24 of the ranked list.

The study adds to the body of evidence illustrating the stark north – south divide in the UK, in everything from employment prospects, to productivity, to population growth and house prices. A separate analysis last week by City Metric, using data from the Centre for Cities, showed that youth unemployment, (measured as the proportion of 16 – 24 year olds claiming out of work benefits) is higher in the north than the south of England. This finding, along with the CURDS research leads to questions about how the Government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse‘ policy can seek to address such differences in the economies of towns and cities of the United Kingdom.The CURDS study suggests that economic growth on its own will not necessarily reduce poverty and inequality in cities. The report calls for comprehensive and integrated packages of long-term policies around economic development, employment, skills and infrastructure to tackle these disparities.

Leading geographer Professor Andy Pike, Director of CURDS, commenting on the implications of the report stated that “If the commitment to rebalancing in the UK is meaningful then greater policy attention and resources by central and local government needs to be focused upon the particular needs of these cities lagging behind.”

The RGS-IBG ran an event in November 2016 on ‘Cities, growth and rebalancing the UK economy‘ as part of our programme of 21st Century Challenges: Policy Forum knowledge exchange events. In December we ran an event in partnership with CURDS examining decentralisation and its benefits or otherwise for the north of England. Find out more about our Policy Forum programme for geographers, decision-makers and other professionals.