Globally competitive cities: how the UK compares

Mission one of the Levelling Up White Paper states ‘by 2030, pay, employment and productivity will have risen in every area of the UK, with each containing a globally competitive city, and the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.’


Introduction

Mission one of the Levelling Up White Paper states ‘by 2030, pay, employment and productivity will have risen in every area of the UK, with each containing a globally competitive city, and the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.’ The technical annex accompanying the White Paper provides further detail on how a globally competitive city might be measured. It explains ‘the traditional metric for measuring living standards is GDP per capita, but when looking at sub-national data, this metric can obscure factors, such as commuting flows, that distort the picture’. Instead, the accompanying notes recommend that, to gain a rounded view of a globally competitive city, the following should be measured:

  • GVA per filled job
  • Services trade balance
  • Share of Knowledge Intensive Service sectors
  • Percentage of 16-64 year olds with an NVQ4+ qualification
  • City density

As a starting point we have examined how cities across the UK compare with the three largest cities of each G7 country using some of the metrics outlined in the technical annex. Where sub-national data on a city level is not available, we have instead looked at how the UK compares with the other countries for each metric. To compare urban data across the world we have used the OECD’s metropolitan areas data.

The Levelling Up White Paper sets out aims to have a globally competitive city in every area of the UK so for this reason we have analysed data for the largest city in every region of England, and the largest cities across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These are:

  • East – Norwich
  • East Midlands – Leicester
  • North East – Newcastle
  • North West – Manchester
  • South East – London
  • South West – Bristol
  • West Midlands – Birmingham
  • Yorkshire and the Humber – Leeds
  • Northern Ireland – Belfast
  • Scotland – Edinburgh
  • Wales – Cardiff

City density

City density is described as the number of people per given area. It is affects quality of urban life including the environmental quality, transport systems, physical infrastructure, and social and economic factors. 

How UK Cities Compare

Of the largest cities in each region of the UK, London was the city with the fourth highest density with 3,494 people per km2, fewer than Leicester (4,820), Bristol (4,164), and Norwich (3,622). However, London has seen the highest percentage change in city density between 2008 and 2018 with a 13 per cent increase. Both Edinburgh and Leicester saw the same 13 per cent increase over this time period, too. The smallest change in city density seen between 2008 and 2018 was in Belfast where the density only increased by 4 per cent.

How the UK compares with the other G7 countries 

There is no comparable data for the whole UK so instead we have calculated the average city density for the three largest cities in all G7 countries.

Between 2008 and 2018, the three largest cities in England saw the second largest increase in density of all G7 countries at 9 per cent. The average city density of the three largest cities in Canada saw the greatest increase in city density at 13 per cent.

The average population density for the three largest cities in England in 2018 was the third lowest of any G7 country at 2,897 people per km2. Only Canada and the United States saw lower averages with 1,905 people per km2 and 838 people per km2 in the three largest cities respectively. Both France and Italy had similar numbers of people per km2 across their three largest cities, almost 1,500 more people than England.

Average city density
A table showing the average city density from UK cities and other G7 countries

G7 Country

City

City density (number of people per km2) 2008

City density (number of people per km2) 2018

Percentage change in city density between 2008 and 2018 (%)

UK

Belfast

2,400

2,486

4

 

Birmingham

2,779

2,992

8

 

Bristol

3,728

4,164

12

 

Cardiff

2,360

2,583

9

 

Edinburgh

1,743

1,971

13

 

Leeds

1,193

1,269

6

 

Leicester

4,280

4,820

13

 

London

3,085

3,494

13

 

Manchester

2,055

2,206

7

 

Newcastle

2,008

2,118

5

 

Norwich

3,286

3,622

10

 

Three largest English cities average

2,639

2,897

9

Canada

Toronto

1,765

2,015

14

 

Montreal

1,929

2,104

9

 

Vancouver

1,353

1,597

18

 

Three largest cities average

1,682

1,905

13

France

Lyon

4,512

4,945

10

 

Marseilles

2,964

3,030

2

 

Paris

4,820

5,023

4

 

Three largest cities average

4,098

4,319

5

Germany

Berlin

3,318

3,524

6

 

Hamburg

2,388

2,469

3

 

Munich

4,238

4,705

11

 

Three largest cities average

3,314

3,566

7

Italy

Milan

5,507

6,050

10

 

Naples

5,058

5,036

0

 

Rome

1,996

2,160

8

 

Three largest cities average

4,187

4,397

5

Japan

Osaka

3,306

3,339

1

 

Tokyo

4,503

4,720

5

 

Yokohama

NA

NA

NA

 

Three largest cities average

NA

NA

NA

United States

Chicago

847

857

1

 

Los Angeles

200

213

7

 

New York

1,395

1,444

4

 

Three largest cities average

814

838

2

Percentage 16-64 year-olds with a NVQ4+ qualification

An NVQ4+ qualification refers to ‘degree level or above’ which includes degrees (for example BA and BSc), higher degrees (such as MA, PhD or PGCE), BTEC Higher level, and RSA Higher Diplomas. It also encompasses professional qualifications such as teaching, nursing and accountancy. Measuring qualification level is important in understanding labour market access and productivity within a place.

This data for this metric was only available for England and Wales using the LGA’s local area benchmarking tool – LG Inform.

How UK cities compare 

Of the largest cities in each region of the UK in 2021, three had over 50 per cent of residents with an NVQ4+ qualification. These were Edinburgh (69 per cent), London (58.9 per cent) and Bristol (56.4 per cent). In comparison, in 2011 no UK city had more than 50 per cent of 16-64 year olds with an NVQ4+ qualification. The city with the lowest per cent of 16-64 year olds with a NVQ4+ qualification in 2011, Birmingham (25.1 per cent) saw the largest increase (60.9 per cent) in the proportion of 16-64 year olds with the qualification in the next ten years to follow. In comparison, there was only a 7.4 per cent increase in 16-64 year olds with a NVQ4+ qualification in Norwich between 2011 and 2021, the lowest of all regions.

16-64 year-olds with a NVQ4+ qualification how UK cities
 A table showing 16-64 year-olds with a NVQ4+ qualification on UK cities 

Country

City

Percentage of 16-64 year olds with a NVQ4+ qualification 2011

Percentage of 16-64 year olds with a NVQ4+ qualification 2021

Percentage change 16-64 year olds with NVQ4+ qualification 2011-2021 (%)

UK

Belfast

NA

NA

NA

 

Birmingham

25.1

40.4

60.9

 

Bristol

41.9

56.4

34.6

 

Cardiff

38.8

45.0

15.9

 

Edinburgh

49.9

69.0

38.2

 

Leeds

33.2

45.8

37.9

 

Leicester

27.4

35.5

29.5

 

London

45.3

58.9

30.0

 

Manchester

38.0

44.9

18.1

 

Newcastle

32.3

44.0

36.2

 

Norwich

37.4

40.2

7.4

 

England (all)

32.5

43.1

32.6

How the UK compares with the other G7 countries

International data available measures the number of 25–64 year-olds nationally who have completed tertiary education (the educational level following the completion of secondary education).

The average per cent of people across the UK in 2019 who have completed tertiary education is 25 per cent higher than the average across Italy (where only 19.6 per cent of 25-64 year olds have been in tertiary education). Between 2016 and 2019, the UK saw the third highest increase in 25-64 year olds in tertiary education of the G7 countries, with a 7.4 per cent increase behind Italy (10.7 per cent) and France (9.8 per cent).

   25-64 year-olds that have completed tertiary education from the UK and other G7 countries
A table comparing  25-64 year-olds that have completed tertiary education from UK and other G7 countries

G7 Country

City

Percentage of 25-64 year olds who have been in tertiary education 2016

Percentage of 25-64 year olds who have been in tertiary education 2019

Percentage change 25-64 year olds in tertiary education 2016-2019

UK

 

41.6

44.7

7.4

 

London

57.0

59.6

4.5

Canada

 

57.0

NA

NA

France

 

34.6

38.0

9.8

Germany

 

28.3

29.9

5.6

Italy

 

17.7

19.6

10.7

Japan

 

NA

NA

NA

United States

 

42.2

43.6 *data for 2018

NA

GVA per filled job

GVA per filled job apportions GVA to the number of jobs in the subregion. The metric was not available for all G7 countries so instead the GDP per worker was calculated. GDP per worker addresses productivity rather than overall economic well-being.

How UK cities compare

Across the UK, the highest GDP per worker produced was in London at $112,729. Of the largest city in every region, GDP per filled job was lowest in Norwich at only $70,242, almost $20,000 below the UK average of $89,530.

GDP per worker increased four per cent across the UK between 2008 and 2018. This was almost 10 per cent lower than increase of 13 per cent seen in Edinburgh across the same time period. There was no change in labour productivity per worker in Newcastle between 2008 and 2018 and only an increase of one per cent in London, Leeds and Norwich.

How the UK compares with other G7 countries

When analysing GDP per worker across G7 cities, the three largest cities in the United States saw higher levels of labour productivity in comparison to the largest city in every UK region across the whole time period. Similarly, the labour productivity levels were higher in the three largest cities in France compared with the largest city in every region of the UK except for Edinburgh and London.

The largest cities in Canada (Toronto - $88,416), Germany (Berlin - $87,000), Italy (Rome - $99,180) and Japan (Tokyo - $112,651) all had lower levels of GDP per worker compared with London in 2018.

The largest cities in Italy all experienced decreasing levels of labour productivity between 2008 and 2018. Italy was the only G7 country to see this trend. Between 2008 and 2018, the average increase in productivity across Canada (seven per cent) and the United States (12 per cent) was higher than that of the UK (four per cent).

GVA per filled job 
A table comparing GVA per filled job from UK cities and other G7 cities

G7 Country

City

Labour productivity (GDP per worker in $) 2008

Labour productivity (GDP per worker in $) 2018

Percentage change in GDP per worker 2008-18 (%)

UK

Belfast

73,213

77,847

6

 

Birmingham

73,420

78,751

7

 

Bristol

77,576

80,314

4

 

Cardiff

69,991

78,648

12

 

Edinburgh

87,044

98,512

13

 

Leeds

75,059

75,728

1

 

Leicester

74,798

79,744

7

 

London

111,189

112,729

1

 

Manchester

79,324

82,521

4

 

Newcastle

71,729

72,007

0

 

Norwich

69,208

70,242

1

 

UK (all)

86,482

89,530

4

Canada

Toronto

78,566

88,416

13

 

Montreal

70,743

78,713

11

 

Vancouver

78,694

89,715

14

 

Canada (all)

82,901

89,029

7

France

Lyon

100,674

107,075

6

 

Marseilles

94,653

97,852

3

 

Paris

125,366

134,673

7

 

France (all)

NA

101,608

NA

Germany

Berlin

82,583

87,000

5

 

Hamburg

108,244

104,800

-3

 

Munich

122,259

124,276

2

 

Germany (all)

89,147

92,070

3

Italy

Milan

117,260

113,359

-3

 

Naples

81,218

78,974

-3

 

Rome

112,215

99,180

-12

 

Italy (all)

94,901

91,792

-3

Japan

Osaka

NA

97,643 *data for 2016

NA

 

Tokyo

NA

112,651 *data for 2016

NA

 

Yokohama

NA

NA

NA

 

Japan (all)

NA

104,218 *data for 2016

NA

United States

Chicago

125,828 (D)

142,555 (D)

13

 

Los Angeles

121,312 (D)

134,129 (D)

11

 

New York

146,921 (D)

181,615 (D)

24

 

United States (all)

112,524 (D)

125,863 (D)

12

 

Share of Knowledge Intensive Service sectors

Knowledge intensive services (KIS) are services that involve activities that are intended to result in the creation, accumulation, or dissemination of knowledge, where knowledge-intensiveness refers to how knowledge is produced and delivered with highly intellectual value-added.

How UK cities compare

The share of employment in knowledge intensive sectors in London was over ten per cent higher compared with the UK average in both 2009 and 2019. London saw an increase of just under three percentage points in employment in knowledge intensive services in this time period.

How the UK compares with other G7 countries

The data for G7 countries was only available on a national level.

Using the data available, in 2019 the UK had the highest average share of employment in knowledge intensive services of all G7 countries at 50.55 per cent. While France had a lower share of employment in knowledge intensive services (46.65 per cent), the percentage change over the last ten years previously was higher than that of the UK at 8.79 per cent.

Share of Knowledge Intensive Service sectors from UK and other G7 Countries
A table comparing share of Knowledge Intensive Service sectors from UK and other G7 Countries

Country

City

Share of employment in Knowledge Intensive services (%) 2009

Share of employment in Knowledge Intensive services (%) 2019

Percentage change in share of employment in Knowledge Intensive services 2009-19 (%)

UK

 

48.41

50.55

4.42

 

London

58.47

61.17

4.61

Canada

 

NA

NA

NA

France

 

42.88

46.65

8.79

Germany

 

39.54

41.15

4.07

Italy

 

33.76

34.84

3.19

Japan

 

NA

30.06 *data for 2012

NA

United States

 

NA

42.24 *data for 2012

NA

Key Findings

  • London is consistently higher than the UK average for every metric, however it has not always seen the highest rate of growth of all UK cities over a given time indicating there is an opportunity for other UK cities to catch up.
  • While productivity levels in the UK are lower than the majority of G7 countries, in 2019 the UK had higher levels of employment in knowledge intensive services and 25-64 year-olds in tertiary education compared with the majority of G7 countries.
  • There is no clear correlation between the metrics given. A spearman rank correlation found there is a near zero coefficient (0.014) between the density of a city and its productivity across the G7.
  • A lack of available data both within the UK and across the G7 means comparisons are limited.

Opportunities for new data

The metrics in the technical annex focus on the labour market and productivity. However, inspired by the future of cities videos and essays, we have explored other ways in which a globally competitive city could be measured.  

Inclusive cities 

If cities are to become globally competitive, they need to tackle systemic inequality and create equal opportunities for their diverse citizens. The metrics outlined in the technical annex are high-level and output focussed. Data evaluation approaches should be long-lasting and monitor agency, attitudes and behavioural changes rather than just outputs. If a city is to be truly competitive it needs to ensure the benefits of growth are felt across all communities.

As a first step, it might be of interest to analyse the metrics identified in the technical annex on a more granular level, looking at whether there’s different levels of productivity or access to the labour market for groups of people with different protected characteristics:

Labour force participation UK and G7 Countries
A table comparing labour force participation UK and G7 Countries

G7 Country

% Labour force participation rate – female 2019

% Labour force participation rate – male 2019

UK

58.7

68.5

Canada

61.3

70.1

France

51.3

59.7

Germany

56.6

67.4

Italy

41.3

59.2

Japan

53.3

71.4

United States

57.4

69.2

Sustainable cities 

Cities only cover two per cent of the world’s surface, yet they consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 per cent of greenhouse emissions. Decarbonising cities will be fundamental to achieving the UK’s net zero goals by 2050. A globally competitive city might use renewable energy sources, have cleaner production techniques, greater regulations to limit industrial emissions, and have strong transport links.

As a result, a metric used to measure the success of cities in tackling the climate crisis might be levels of air pollution:

Sustainable cities UK and other G7 Cities
A table comparing sustainable cities UK and G7 Countries

G7 Country

City

Mean population exposure to PM2.5 air pollution 2019

UK

Belfast

9.9

 

Birmingham

10.6

 

Bristol

10.6

 

Cardiff

10.3

 

Edinburgh

7

 

Leeds

10.5

 

Leicester

11.6

 

London

12.5

 

Manchester

10.6

 

Newcastle

8.5

 

Norwich

11.8

Canada

Toronto

7.6

 

Montreal

8.8

 

Vancouver

7.4

France

Lyon

14.6

 

Marseilles

15.2

 

Paris

13.6

Germany

Berlin

15.7

 

Hamburg

12.2

 

Munich

12.6

Italy

Milan

24.9

 

Naples

15.4

 

Rome

16.5

Japan

Osaka

14.3

 

Tokyo

14.9

 

Yokohama

NA

United States

Chicago

9.3

 

Los Angeles

9.6

 

New York

7.7

 

Healthy cities 

The Levelling Up White Paper sets targets to improve both health and wellbeing with the health mission stating that ‘by 2030 the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest will have narrowed and by 2035 HLE will rise by five years’. Urban areas have a key role to play in making this a reality putting the mental, physical and social health of city residents at the heart of future policy.

As a starting point we have looked at life expectancy broken down by gender:

Healthy UK cities

 

A table showing Healthy UK cities

Country

City

Life expectancy (years) 2008-2010 female

Life expectancy (years) 2008-2010 male

Life expectancy (years) 2018-2020 female

Life expectancy (years) 2018-2020 male

UK

Belfast

80.2

74.8

80.5

75.8

 

Birmingham

81.5

76.7

81.8

77.1

 

Bristol

82.1

77.3

82.7

78.5

 

Cardiff

81.7

77.6

82.8

78.0

 

Edinburgh

81.4

76.8

82.4

78.2

 

Leeds

81.7

77.4

81.8

77.8

 

Leicester

80.4

75.7

81.5

76.8

 

London

82.9

78.7

84.3

80.3

 

Manchester

78.8

73.7

79.9

75.5

 

Newcastle

80.4

76.3

81.6

77.3

 

Norwich

82.8

77.3

82.8

78.0

 

English average

82.3

78.4

83.1

79.4