Overview of sustainable growth across the East of England

Rob Turner Rob Turner

The East of England’s performance on the Sustainable growth index is largely positive, with the number of areas performing in the top 40% for sustainable growth outweighing those in the bottom 40%. Eleven of the 47 areas in the region rank in the top 20% nationally. Most of these are located in the south-west of the region.

Cambridge is the highest-ranking area in the country, a position it has held for the past five years. South Cambridgeshire is also in the top 10, ranking seventh, highlighting that vibrancy extends beyond traditional local authority boundaries. 

The Sustainable growth index has been developed around the belief that our economy should benefit society as a whole, taking into account a wider set of characteristics than just economic growth. To do this it measures an area’s average ranking across six baskets of indicators, with each basket corresponding to a component of sustainable and inclusive growth.

A mixed picture

The East of England is an interesting region because it can boast top national performers across all the baskets – albeit with different areas for each basket. It is also a region that includes some of the weakest performers nationally.

In terms of prosperity, Three Rivers squeezes out South Cambridgeshire and Watford for top position in the region, with a further six areas all within the top 20% nationally. At the other end of the scale, there are seven areas in the bottom 20% nationally.

For dynamism and opportunity – having the skills and entrepreneurialism to drive future growth – Cambridge ranks number one nationally and is joined by South Cambridgeshire and Welwyn Hatfield in the top 10. However, this strong performance cannot hide the fact that 10 (21%) of areas in the region rank in the bottom 20% nationally for this basket of measures.

Strong on specific measures

By contrast, the region performs particularly strongly on the inclusion and equality basket, which considers if everyone is benefiting from economic growth. Over half of all areas in this region rank in the top 40%. Half of these rank in the top 20% nationally, with South Cambridgeshire, East Hertfordshire and St Albans all ranking in the top 20 nationally. Only 10 areas perform in the bottom 40%, and only five of these are in the bottom 20%.  

On health, well-being and happiness, the region’s performance is comparable. Fourteen areas rank in the top 20% nationally, with Uttlesford and St Albans ranking four and six respectively. Fifteen areas are however in the bottom 40% of this basket, pointing to a particular challenge for parts of the region.

A vibrant economy requires the economy to have a neutral impact on the natural environment as well as our built environments to be resilient places. In terms of resilience and sustainability, 17 areas in the East of England rank in the top 40% nationally, with over half of these in the top 20%. Central Bedfordshire is the strongest performer on this basket, ranking sixth nationally. Only five areas rank in the bottom 20% nationally. 

On community, trust and belonging, eight areas rank in the top 20% nationally with two – Cambridge and St Albans – ranking six and eleven respectively. Seven areas, however, rank in the bottom 20% nationally, which makes this basket the most polarised of the six.

Moving up

A number of areas have seen significant improvements in performance over the past five years. Harlow has had the greatest improvement in ranking on the overall Sustainable growth index, moving up 109 places between 2013 and 2018. This puts it in the top 10 most improved places nationally. Brentwood and Broadland have also seen a significant improvement over the same period, moving up 82 and 66 places respectively. In the case of Brentwood, this has moved the area into the top 20% performing places nationally.

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