By Daniel Hunter

A new assessment of how UK economic performance could be measured in large cities shows that the public believes there’s more to life than GDP, with the results suggesting that some of the traditional perceptions of a north — south divide could be outdated.

The PwC/Demos report Good Growth for Cities measured the performance of 36 of the largest UK cities against a basket of categories defined by the public as key to economic success and wellbeing. It ranks some of the UK’s regional cities including Aberdeen, Warrington & the Wirral, and Belfast higher than in tables of economic size, usually dominated by London, Birmingham, and Manchester.

Above average cities for ‘good growth’ in the report included Aberdeen, Bristol, Oxford, Preston, Portsmouth, Southampton and Stoke on Trent. The UK’s biggest cities including Birmingham London, and Manchester, performed below the UK average for good growth measures, contrasting public and expert views on what makes a city attractive.

While Britain’s road out of recession is understandably causing policy makers and commentators to focus attention on quarterly GDP figures as the key indicator of our economic health, the analysis shows the UK public is increasingly taking a wider and more personal view of the components of economic success.

The highest ranking cities in the Index tend to do relatively well on jobs, income and health, as well as providing for the future and the environment. However the results suggest there is a price for this, seen in relatively low scores for work-life balance and housing affordability. Housing affordability is frequently a focus of concern including in Oxford, Bristol and London.

The recent Cities of Opportunity report conducted by PwC in conjunction with the Partnership for New York City, examined the social and economic performance of 27 of the world’s leading cities and named London in the top ten in all bar two of the ten indicators. London also ranked highly as a city of great cultural vibrancy, intellectual capital and innovation. However, the popularity of the city as a leading international business centre causes its own challenges, and measured against the wider range of publicly defined ‘good growth’ criteria such as affordable housing, transport, and working hours, it slips below the UK overall average for ‘good growth’.

“The financial crisis and recession has provoked a lot of soul searching about the economic growth we want, and it’s no surprise that the public are now considering issues at home, family and health as part of the bigger economic picture and priorities," Paul Cleal, partner, PwC said.

“The results show the government’s decision to track national well-being is well placed. The public considers traditional measures of economic success —jobs and income as critical to growth but health, work-life balance, transport infrastructure and affordable housing also feature as important.

“Our findings suggest a good growth measurement approach could, particularly in austerity, help government and local authorities focus their investment and resource allocation on the things that matter most to the public.

“It’s not a question of whether one measure or approach is right or wrong. What the research tells us is that local economic development needs to shift from a narrow focus on Gross Value Added, to a more holistic measure of a city’s success — and its potential. Both views ultimately focus on jobs and income and the role of the UK’s major cities in driving the country’s recovery and growth.”

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