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Published 20 September 2022
For local, regional and national reasons, it is very important that Greater Manchester continues to build on its success. Alison Key, Head of Commercial Real Estate at international law firm DAC Beachcroft, asks Paul Swinney, Head of Research at think tank Centre for Cities, for his view on the next stages for Manchester’s growth and the role of transport and education.
Alison: “What’s your summary on Greater Manchester’s performance to date?"
Paul: “There is much to be positive about in the recent performance. Since 1991 there has been a 30 per cent increase in the number of jobs in the city region. Much of this has been driven by knowledge-based activities in professional, scientific and technical activities in particular, whose number has quadrupled over the same period.
"And this growth has been driven by the resurgence of Manchester city centre’s economy. The city centre has been the focal point of growth in these types of jobs, reflecting the desire for such activities to cluster together in dense city centre locations. This growth has meant that of all the jobs in the centre, around 40 per cent are knowledge based, compared to 17 per cent for the city region as a whole. These higher-paid jobs have created jobs in the many shops, bars and restaurants that now surround them, creating opportunities for those who live within commutable distance.
"However, in common with the UK’s other big regional cities – Birmingham and Glasgow for example, Manchester is underperforming. Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle don’t make the contribution they should be making to the national economy either."
Alison: “ How does this compare with the picture beyond the UK?”
Paul: “In Western Europe and the USA, big regional cities lead the national economy. In France, Lyon and Bordeaux are some of the best performing parts of France , even given Paris’ dominance. And Hamburg, Stockholm and Amsterdam are some of Europe’s leading lights too. This is because of the benefits that big cities offer to high-skilled businesses, namely access. Access to lots of skills workers and access to knowledge through the interactions they are able to have with other high-skilled businesses."
Alison: “What are the implications of this for the levelling up agenda?"
Paul: “No Government of any colour will level up the country if it doesn’t address the reasons why our big cities lag, The combined underperformance of these big cities meant that the national economy was an estimated £50 billion smaller in 2018 that it should otherwise have been."
Alison: “What then are your recommendations for next steps in policy development?”
Paul: “The first goal of policy should be to continue to support the on-going resurgence of the city centre. This means continuing to prioritise city centre office development through the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and unblocking barriers to development where they exist.
"This needs to be supported by two other policy areas. The first is by extending the public transport network. As more and more jobs locate in the centre of Manchester, commuting by private transport will become less and less feasible, so a larger public transport network will be needed to accommodate this growth. Impending bus franchising, which has been a hard-fought victory for mayor Andy Burnham, will help with this. Further extension of the Metrolink will likely be needed too.
"Any expansion of Metrolink will need to be matched with an increase in the density of residential development in Manchester to support the network’s use. The reason why so many European cities have tram or underground networks is because the higher densities of their residential space encourage public transport usage and so increase its viability.
"The second is skills. In order to attract and grow more high skilled jobs, the city region will need to have a higher-skilled workforce – across the city region. 39 per cent of residents have a degree, compared to 58 per cent in London. An ever-increasing number of higher-skilled jobs in Manchester city centre will mean little to the residents of Greater Manchester though , if they don’t have the skills to access them. In one town over 22 per cent of residents don’t have the equivalent of five good GCSEs.
"Andy Burnham is hopeful of getting greater control of further education budgets in the ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals being negotiated with the Government. Better use of this and other substantial sums of money spent on skills in the city region will need to be central to making it both a more attractive place to invest and improve the prosperity of its residents. “
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