Across England, the South East stands out as the most vibrant region. Of the 67 local authority areas that make up the region, two-thirds (45) rank in the top 40% nationally (See map 1). Nearly half (31) rank in the top 20%. And five – Wokingham, Windsor and Maidenhead, Vale of White Horse, Oxford and Guildford – rank in the top 10.
The Vibrant Economy Index is based on the average ranking of each area across six baskets of indicators with each basket corresponding to one of the six components of sustainable and inclusive growth. 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 26 areas in the top 20% nationally with Slough, Runnymede, Crawley, Windsor and Maidenhead, Reading and Milton Keynes 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 Oxford, Runnymede, Vale of White Horse, Wokingham, Winchester and Guildford all rank 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 – nine of the top 10 performing areas are in the South East. Of these, Hart, Waverley, South Bucks, Elmbridge and Wokingham rank one to five respectively. On health, wellbeing and happiness, the South East takes six of the 10 top spots, with South Oxfordshire, Mid Sussex, Woking and Mole Valley all scoring high. There’s a positive story in terms of community, trust and belonging, too. Two-thirds of the areas (43) in the South East rank in the top 40% nationally, with Oxford ranked number one 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 30 areas in the top 40% nationally and 22 in the bottom 40%. Only five areas – Aylesbury Vale, Milton Keynes, Vale of White Horse, Maidstone and Cherwell – rank in the top 20 nationally.
Within the region, Ashford has seen the greatest improvement in relative performance over the last five years, moving up 79 places between the 2013 index and 2017 index. This is the third-largest improvement in rankings nationally. Eastbourne and Tunbridge Wells also saw large improvements in relative performance, increasing by 67 ranks and 34 ranks respectively.
An east west divide
Looking across the South East reveals an interesting east west divide, with the west of the region notably more vibrant than the east. This is particularly pronounced in terms of inclusion and equality. In pockets where performance is lower, the challenges around creating a vibrant 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 vibrancy tracking along the M4 and M40 as well as clusters around cities like Oxford, Milton Keynes and Reading.