The geography of vibrancy: Scotland

Rob Turner Rob Turner

To shape a vibrant economy, Scotland needs places where people and businesses can flourish. The Vibrant Economy Index seeks to define and measure the components that create these successful areas.

In doing so, it establishes a basis from which to drive positive change and track progress in each area. By identifying places that are successful in developing vibrant economies, the index highlights ideas and approaches that others can learn from.

Andrew Howie gives an overview of the Vibrant Economy Index and the findings for Scotland.

The measures included in the Vibrant Economy Index extend beyond the traditional economic measures of success to include components related to inclusive and sustainable growth (see table 1). This provides a framework for a broader assessment of the 32 local authority areas in Scotland and identifies strengths, opportunities and challenges, to help people, businesses and local leaders think and act differently.

Table 1: What our Vibrant Economy Index measures 

What makes an economy vibrant?
Prosperity Dynamism and opportunity Inclusion and equality Health, wellbeing and happiness Resilience and sustainability Community, trust and belonging
We have an economy that is producing wealth and creating jobs Our economy is entrepreneurial and innovative, with a population that has skill sets that can drive future growth Everyone benefits from economic growth. The gap between richest and poorest narrows, regional disparities reduce and there are equal opportunities for all People are healthy and active, leading fulfilling lives, which provides individual prospects Our economy has a neutral impact on the natural environment, and our built environments are resilient places we want to live in Vibrant communities have a lively and creative cultural life, and a clear identity that all its people are proud of. People feel safe, engage in community activities and rust the integrity of businesses and institutions
What does the Vibrant Economy Index measure?
Prosperity Dynamism and opportunity Inclusion and equality Health, wellbeing and happiness Resilience and sustainability Community, trust and belonging
- Total GVA (£m)
- GVA per job (£000)
- Average workplace earnings (£)
- Employment in knowledge driven sectors (%)
- Businesses with turnover over £1 million (%)
- Businesses with turnover over £100 million (%)
- Foreign owned businesses (%)
- Business formation rates
- Patents granted (per 100000 pop)
- Residents qualified to NVQ 4+ degree level)
- Share of knowledge workers (%)
- Pupils gaining 5+ awards at level five(%)
- Employment in higher education (%)
- Employment in research and development (%)
- Indices of Multiple Deprivation (most deprived 10% of Data Zones)
- Average income
- Inequality range
- Child poverty (score)
- Housing affordability
- Employment rate (%)
- Fuel poor households (%)
- Unemployment over five years (%)
- Working age population claiming benefits (%)
- Housing benefit claimants (%)
- Homelessness
- Unemployed inequality (ethnicity)
- Mean hours worked differential
- Sports participation
- Life expectancy at birth (male and female combined)
- Child obesity in year six
- Happiness (score)
- Anxiety (score)
- Life satisfaction (score)
- Life worthwhile (score)
- Long-term sickness or disability (%)
- Air pollution (NO2)
- Waste recycled (%)
- Per capita CO2 emissions
- Energy consumption (all fuels)
- Total planning applications
- Total dwelling completions
- Housing below quality standard (%)
- Valid votes turnout (%)
- Violent Crimes (per 1,000 pop)
- Living alone, aged over 65 years old(%)
- Cultural amenities score
- Community asset score
- Ethnic diversity score
- Engagement in cultural events (%)

Across all the vibrant economy measures, Edinburgh is the top-performing place, followed by Aberdeen, Perth & Kinross, Aberdeenshire and East Dunbartonshire. The geographic spread of these five top-ranking places underlines one of the key findings from the analysis: that vibrancy in Scotland is spread across different regions and is found in both urban and rural areas. This is, in part, a reflection of the fact that the analysis looks at both economic and social measures.

Economic measures

According to our index, the cities and larger towns are the domain of prosperity and dynamism and opportunity.

The most prosperous areas in Scotland are Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Edinburgh, Aberdeen and East Lothian are also the top-ranking areas for dynamism and opportunity (see map 1). 

In terms of prosperity, there are two clusters of economic prosperity – one in the north in Aberdeenshire, including the city; and one in the centre, stretching west to east from Renfrewshire to Midlothian, including Glasgow, Lanarkshire, West Lothian and Edinburgh.

There is also a clear corridor of dynamism emerging across the Lothian region, with Midlothian and West Lothian (ranking five and seven respectively) joining Edinburgh and East Lothian (ranking one and three) as high performers on this basket of measures. Dundee also performs strongly in terms of dynamism and opportunity (ranking four) while Renfrewshire in the county borders of Glasgow is the strongest performer to the West.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for these two baskets of measures, the lowest ranking places are some of the more rural and peripheral geographies in both the south and the north.

Map 1 - Overview of vibrancy across Scotland

Societal measures

A number of urban areas in Scotland face significant challenges in relation to health, wellbeing and happiness, and inclusion and equality. These challenges are particular prevalent in West Central Scotland where a number of areas rank in the bottom 20% nationally on this basket of measures.  

The high correlation between inclusion and equality, and health, wellbeing and happiness (chart 1) and the lack of correlation between prosperity, and inclusion and equality (see chart 2) highlights the importance of looking beyond traditional economic measures when considering the success of a place. It underlines the scale of the challenge facing those responsible for place-shaping. It also points to an important role for businesses in thinking through how they can improve the wellbeing of their employees and play a role in helping them live healthier and happier lives.

The correlation between health, wellbeing and happiness and inclusion and equality - Wales

The lack of correlation between prosperity and inclusion and equality - Wales

The places that perform most strongly on these societal measures are spread across the country, with areas such as Shetland Islands, Scottish Borders, East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire performing strongly on both baskets.

The strongest performers on the community, trust and belonging basket of measures are also spread across the country, with the Highlands and Islands performing particularly strongly: Orkney, Argyll & Bute and Shetland rank one to three respectively. East Central Scotland also performs well, with Edinburgh and Perth & Kinross ranking four and five respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, West Central Scotland faces the most significant challenges in relation to these measures and generally ranks well below the national average.

The built and natural environment

The measures in our resilience and sustainability basket point to a varied geography, with the five top-ranking areas covering the Highlands (Highland), the West (South Lanarkshire), the East (Fife and Perth & Kinross) and the North (Aberdeenshire). East Ayrshire, the highest performing area in the South, ranks ten.

This variation is partly due to the suite of measures within this basket that – more than any others – is most strongly influenced by local authority decision-making and policy. This means that geographical neighbours within a region can see very different decisions being made in relation to housing, planning and recycling.

Long-term trends

The Vibrant Economy Index includes trend data to indicate the ‘direction of travel’ of each area. The overarching finding is that there has been very little change in the past five years.  Only five areas have seen a change of more than five places in the ranking: two positive and three negative. Again, there is no common geographic trend as to which areas are the most likely to have improved their overall scores. This partly reflects the fact that change is driven by a very wide range of factors. Midlothian saw the greatest improvement, rising from a rank of 18 to seven overall.  East Renfrewshire was the second most improved, rising from a rank of 21 to 15.  


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Contact us

To find out more about the Vibrant Economy Index in Scotland, or to discuss the Vibrant Economy Index report in more detail, please contact Rob Turner or Andrew Howie.