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Overview of sustainable growth across the South East

Rob Turner Rob Turner

Across England, the South East stands out as the region topping the Sustainable Growth Index. Of the 67 local authority areas that make up the region, two-thirds (46) rank in the top 40% nationally. Nearly half (29) rank in the top 20%. And five – Oxford, Wokingham, Vale of White Horse, Runnymede and Windsor and Maidenhead – rank in the top 10.

Our Sustainable Growth Index seeks to define and measure the components that create successful places. The measures included extend beyond the traditional economic measures of success to include components related to: prosperity; dynamism and opportunity; inclusion and equality; health, wellbeing and happiness; resilience and sustainability; and community, trust and belonging. The South East’s standout performance overall is driven by the high ranking that its areas achieve across all baskets.

Strong across the board

In terms of prosperity, London dominates the top performers, but in the South East there are 25 areas in the top 20% nationally with Runnymede, Slough, Crawley, Rushmoor, Bracknell Forest, Reading, Milton Keynes, Windsor and Maidenhead, Elmbridge and Mole Valley all ranking in the top 20 nationally. The same is true for dynamism and opportunity – which considers if there are the skill sets and entrepreneurialism to drive future growth – where Runnymede, Vale of White Horse and Oxford rank two, three and four respectively, with a further four areas in the top 20 nationally. 

It’s not just in the economic baskets where the South East outperforms other regions. On inclusion and equality – with indicators that assess if everyone is benefiting from economic growth – all of the top 10 performing areas are in the South East. Of these, Hart, Elmbridge, Waverley, Wokingham and Mid Sussex rank one to five respectively. On health, wellbeing and happiness, the South East takes five of the 10 top spots, with Wokingham, Waverly and Surrey Heath all scoring high. There’s a positive story in terms of community, trust and belonging, too. Two-thirds of the areas (41) in the South East rank in the top 40% nationally, with Oxford ranked second nationally in this basket.

The resilience and sustainability basket considers the impact the economy has on the environment and if the built environment will support future growth. It is here where performance is most polarised, with 32 areas in the top 40% nationally and 22 in the bottom 40%. Only five areas – Milton Keynes, Maidstone, Aylesbury Vale, Vale of White Horse, and South Oxfordshire – rank in the top 20 nationally. 

Within the region, Ashford and Southampton have seen the greatest improvement in relative performance over the last five years, moving up 52 places between the 2013 index and 2018 index. Eastbourne and Tunbridge Wells also saw large improvements in relative performance, both increasing by 46 ranks.

An east west divide

Looking across the South East reveals an interesting east west divide, with the west of the region notably more successful than the east. This is particularly pronounced in terms of inclusion and equality. In pockets where performance is lower, the challenges around creating a sustainable growth and inclusive economy are significant. The challenges are often exacerbated because the underlying issues are hidden in the bigger story of regionally strong performance.

For the west of the region, there are corridors of success tracking along the M4 and M40 as well as clusters around cities like Oxford, Milton Keynes and Reading.

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