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Vibrant Economy Index: an inclusive way of measuring progress

Vibrant Economy Index: Places in South are most vibrant but North and Midlands show greater improvement over time

  • The top ten most vibrant places are in the south of England, but eight of the top ten most improved places over the last five years are in the North or Midlands
  • Cambridge is England’s most vibrant place for the fifth year in a row
  • Sheffield is England’s most improved place
  • Vibrant Economy Index goes beyond binary GDP to provide a more inclusive way of measuring progress in England

Grant Thornton UK LLP today publishes the new results from its annual , which measures the vibrancy of the 324 English local authority areas, based on six broad social and economic objectives, known as ‘baskets’ for sustainable, inclusive growth. Vibrancy is measured using key indicators for each of the six baskets and each place is awarded an overall ‘vibrancy’ score, with 100 being the national average. This year, the Index also measures the change in rankings between the 2013 and 2017 data.

The Index found that the most vibrant places are in the South of England, with Cambridge, Camden, Westminster, Wokingham and Richmond upon Thames leading the way. The most vibrant places demonstrate a good balance between economic growth, social equality, sustainability and healthy and happy people. 

Cambridge retains the top spot, which it has held for the last five years, whilst Richmond-upon Thames has moved from third to fifth. Camden, Westminster and Wokingham are all new entrants to the top five, last year they ranked 8th, 9th and 10th respectively.

However, the most improved places in the last five years are mainly in the North and Midlands. The most improved were , North Warwickshire, Ashford, Eastbourne and Cheshire West and Chester. Sheffield topped the list of most improved.

In 2013, Sheffield ranked in the bottom 40% of the Vibrant Economy Index. This year, with a score of 100.45, the city has climbed 95 places (233rd, 2013 to 138th, 2017) to hit the national average, making Sheffield the biggest climber overall.

Sheffield’s local economy has become more resilient and now ranks in the top 40% of areas nationally for resilience and sustainability (103.25). In particular, it’s seen a large increase in building activity, with the number of dwellings completed rising from 370 (2013) to 1,090 (2017). In 2013, Sheffield also had the highest proportion of households on local authority waiting lists at 29.6%, this number has now reduced to 12.3% (2017).

Though the biggest improvements came from places in the North and Midlands, change largely came from a low starting point, meaning that northern places still have work to do to close the gap with the south. For example in Sheffield, the most improved place, inclusion is a continuing challenge. This is the one area on the Index where Sheffield scores in the bottom 20% nationally. The city still has areas of significant deprivation and low aspiration and high numbers of long-term unemployed.

The study also found that:

Cambridge is the most vibrant place in England.

  • Cambridge is the highest-ranking place in the country for overall vibrancy (109.6), a position it has held for the past five years
  • The city ranks in the top 20% nationally for four baskets – dynamism and opportunity (1st), community, trust and belonging (5th), resilience and sustainability (19th) and prosperity (45th). However, it ranks below the national average for health, wellbeing and happiness with a score of 97.11
  • South Cambridgeshire is also in the top ten, ranking eighth, highlighting that vibrancy extends beyond the city limits.

London is a vibrant capital city, but health and happiness outcomes are below average

  • According to the Index,Of the 32 London boroughs, over half (20) rank above the national average for vibrancy. Of these, 14 are in the top 20% nationally, with three – Camden, Westminster and Richmond upon Thames – in the top 10, ranking two, three and five respectively
  • Much of London’s vibrancy is driven by economic prosperity.  Eight of the top 10 most prosperous places in England are London boroughs. The top five are Westminster, Tower Hamlets, Camden, Islington and Southwark
  • While London leads the country in terms of prosperity it has lower happiness and health scores, suggesting that the city’s affluence does not necessarily translate into creating a healthy, happy place to live where everyone benefits from economic growth. Of the 32 boroughs, 20 score less than the national average for health, happiness and wellbeing, with 11 of these scoring in the lowest 20% nationally.

Inequality is holding back the full growth potential of places, particularly cities.

  • The Index finds that traditional indicators of economic prosperity do not correlate in any significant way with other measurements of performance, such as inclusion and equality, which assesses the gap between the richest and poorest
  • In city areas in particular, where there are high levels of economic prosperity, not everyone benefits. For example, half of London boroughs are in the bottom 40% nationally for inclusion and equality. Ten of these are in the bottom 20% with Hackney and Newham ranking the lowest in London. Only one borough – Richmond upon Thames – ranks in the top 20% nationally.

Sacha Romanovitch, CEO of Grant Thornton UK LLP, said:

“The vibrancy of any local place is about so much more than GDP.  From soup kitchens to social enterprises, riverside cleans ups to responsible lending, green recycling schemes to growth generation through Local Enterprise Partnerships – real vibrancy is the result of collaboration between people and public, private and third sector organisations.

“Using the Vibrant Economy Index as a broader measure than binary GDP really helps us pay attention to the things that matter. For England, this means that we can identify both our strengths and also the areas of opportunity for us to improve and, crucially, who we can learn from to allow us to shape a vibrant economy and sustainable society where no one is left behind. Through sharing ideas and resources across business, public and the third sector we can make that happen.”

Karl Eddy, Partner, Enterprise, Investments and Innovation, Grant Thornton UK LLP, said:

“Our data shows that some places across England are already making great strides towards realising more inclusive growth, such as Sheffield. Five years ago, Sheffield’s overall performance looked very different and the city ranked towards the bottom of our Index. The city has become more resilient and is now the biggest climber in the Index overall since 2013.

“This impressive result demonstrates that good growth is inclusive growth. Looking beyond just economic prosperity and focusing on measuring the wellbeing of society as a whole can produce real change and start to positively impact local people. We hope that our Index, and the improvement seen so far, will help businesses, public sector leaders, the third sector and communities identify ways they can collaborate to create a truly vibrant economy that works for everyone.”

Alongside the updated Index, Grant Thornton is also launching a Vibrant Economy app, which brings our Vibrant Economy Index to life.  The app is a tool for people and organisations to use to learn about the different factors that create a vibrant economy and share examples of local activities that make places more vibrant. You can download the app by searching for Vibrant Economy in your device’s App store.