The geography of vibrancy: England

If the UK is to have a vibrant economy, it requires places where people and businesses can flourish. The Vibrant Economy Index seeks to define and measure the components that create these successful areas. Once classified, it provides a basis from which to drive positive change over time and an objective accountability for an area. It highlights places that are doing well and potential lessons that can be shared.

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 324 local authority areas, which clearly identifies strengths and opportunities, as well as 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 100,000 population)
- Residents qualified to NVQ 4+ (degree level)
- Share of knowledge workers (%)
- Pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A*–C (%)
- Employment in higher education (%)
- Employment in research and development (%)
- Indices of Multiple Deprivation (average score)
- Average income (£)
- Inequality score
- Child poverty (score)
- Employment rate (%)
- Fuel-poor households (%)
- Employment rate (%)
- Unemployment over five years (%)
- Working-age population claiming benefits (%)
- Housing benefit claimants (%)
- Homelessness
- Unemployed inequality (ethnicity)
- Sports participation
- Life expectancy at birth (male and female combined)
- Diabetes prevalence(%)
- Obesity in adults (%)
- Child obesity in Year 6
- Happiness (score)
- Anxiety
- Life satisfaction
- Life worthwhile
- Mean hours worked differential
Air quality score
- Waste recycled
- Per capita CO2 emissions
- Energy consumption (all fuels)
- Households on local authority waiting list
- Total dwelling completions
- Total planning applications
- Proportion of new residential addresses created in national flood zone
- Density of housing on previously developed land
Valid votes turnout (%)
- Violent crimes (per 1,000 population)
- Living alone, aged over 65 years old (%)
- Cultural amenities score
- Ethnic diversity score

Overall vibrancy scores

Across all of the vibrant economy measures, the south of England continues to dominate [see Map 1]. Cambridge is the top-performing place, followed by two London boroughs – Camden and Westminster. Wokingham, Windsor and Maidenhead, Oxford, Guildford and Winchester also rank highly.

A glance at the top 10 performing places underlines one of the key findings from the analysis: that vibrancy is rarely contained within individual authority areas, but spreads across traditional boundaries. For example, the neighbouring areas of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire on the one hand, and Oxford and Vale of White Horse on the other, are all among the country’s strongest performers.

Standout pockets of vibrancy outside the south of England include Warwick, Rushcliffe and Stratford-on-Avon in the Midlands; Cheshire East in the North West; and York in Yorkshire and Humber.

Economic measures

According to our index, prosperity and dynamism and opportunity are the domain of the cities, with Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Cambridge, Birmingham, Coventry, York, Brighton and Hove, Bath, Sheffield, Southampton, Bristol and Liverpool all performing strongly.

Another notable geographical pattern is the formation of corridors of dynamism and opportunity across the country, mostly clustered around key transport routes. The M4 corridor has perhaps the highest profile of these, with Ealing, Bracknell Forest, Windsor and Maidenhead, Reading, Swindon, Bristol and Bath all performing strongly. But others are clearly apparent, including the M3 corridor with Winchester, Southampton the top performers and the M11 corridor from London to Cambridge.

The geography of dynamism also appears to reflect a number of key government policy initiatives, with a clear corridor emerging around the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, including Liverpool, Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Manchester, Leeds, Harrogate, York and Sheffield. Similarly, the Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford corridor and surrounding areas perform strongly on this basket of measures.

Societal measures

Most of our cities face significant challenges in relation to health, wellbeing, happiness, inclusion and equality, according to the index. Some parts of London and other cities across the East and West Midlands, North West and Yorkshire rank in the bottom 20% nationally on this basket of measures.

The lack of correlation between prosperity and inclusion and equality [Chart 1] and the high correlation between inclusion and equality, and health, wellbeing and happiness [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 the role they can play in helping them to live healthier and happier lives.

It’s also clear that both highly urban places and highly rural places face significant challenges in relation to inclusion and equality, albeit for different underlying reasons. For example, lack of job opportunities in rural areas can create long-term unemployment, whereas in urban areas competition for jobs can make it difficult for people to re-engage if they fall out of the labour market.

Chart 1: Lack of correlation between prosperity and inclusion and equality

Chart 2: The high correlation between inclusion and equality, and health, wellbeing and happiness

The places that perform most strongly on these measures are widely spread across the country, including in the South East, Yorkshire, the East of England, the East and West Midlands and around London. They typically either ‘halo’ cities or occupy some of the more rural parts of England.

The strongest performers on the community, trust and belonging basket of measures are places in London and the immediate areas to the north and south. At the other end of the spectrum, it is apparent that some coastal areas, particularly along the east coast from the North East to Essex and Kent, face the most significant challenges in relation to these measures and generally rank below average. This reflects the apparent loss of a sense of community in many traditional seaside resorts as a result of the pull towards cities and the decline of the traditional British seaside holiday over several generations.

The built and natural environment

The combination of measures within our resilience and sustainability basket results in a very diverse geographical spread of high performers. The top 10 includes places in five different regions, from Croydon and Barnet in London, to Wiltshire, Bristol and Bath in the South West, to Milton Keynes, Aylesbury Vale and Maidstone in the South East, to Central Bedfordshire in the East and Shropshire in the West Midlands.

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

This year’s Vibrant Economy Index includes trend data looking back over the past five years to indicate the ‘direction of travel’ of each area.

Our analysis shows that places in the North and Midlands are the most likely to have improved their overall scores, although generally from a low base, moving from the bottom 20% to closer to the national average.

This has been driven by a very wide range of factors, but the biggest improvements have generally been in relation to health, wellbeing and happiness, and resilience and sustainability, which may in part reflect specific policy interventions from local authorities.

By Rob Turner

> Read Vibrant Economy Index: A new way to measure success to discover more about building a better economy for the UK, based on more than just GDP. 

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Contact us

To find out more, or to discuss the Vibrant Economy Index report in more detail, please contact Rob Turner or Paul Dossett.