The Vibrant Economy Index ranks the 324 English local authority areas according to their average score across six baskets of indicators, with each basket corresponding to one of the six components of sustainable and inclusive growth. The index reveals a number of challenges for the North East.
In terms of overall vibrancy, just one of the region’s 12 areas ranks around the national average (See map 1). The remaining 11 are in the bottom 40% nationally, with six of these in the bottom 20%. Examining the individual baskets of indicators shows a range of factors driving this relatively weak performance.
Challenges on all fronts
The most significant challenges facing the region are on inclusion and equality. This basket of measures includes indicators such as child poverty, homelessness and unemployment over five years. All areas rank below the national average, with nine out of 12 areas ranking in the bottom 20% nationally. There is a similar story in terms of health, wellbeing and happiness, with all bar one area ranking below the national average. Darlington is the only place that ranks around the national average. The remaining 11 areas are in the bottom 40%, with six of these in the bottom 20%.
There are also challenges in relation to community, trust and belonging, which considers aspects such as voter turnout, community and cultural assets, crime and elderly living alone. Three-quarters of the areas in the region rank in the bottom 20% nationally. Only one area, Newcastle upon Tyne, ranks above the national average.
On economic measures, the picture is more positive, although still challenging in comparison with other regions. In terms of prosperity, which measures if an economy is producing wealth and creating jobs, three areas – Sunderland, Newcastle and North Tyneside – rank in the top 40%. Four rank around the national average. There is a similar pattern in terms of dynamism and opportunity: having the skill sets and entrepreneurialism to drive future growth. Four areas rank in the top 40%. County Durham has the highest score overall, followed by Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Stockton-on-Tees. A further three areas rank around the national average.
For the North East, the challenge is that, unlike other regions, the strengths of its economic centres are limited and therefore their ability to drive wealth and prosperity across the region is constrained. Similarly, a number of places perform above the national average in the current ranking for prosperity and dynamism and opportunity, but none is in the top 20% nationally and therefore big enough to begin to exert influence across the region. While it is clear from other regions that a strong economic centre does not automatically resolve social challenges, the lack of one does exacerbate it.
The one basket where the region does rank in the top 20% nationally is resilience and sustainability. In this basket, Newcastle, Northumberland and County Durham all perform strongly.