More support needed for ‘fast growth cities’, report warns

The government needs to focus more attention on supporting the UK’s fastest growing and strongest performing cities, according to a new report from Centre for Cities.

According to the think thank, the government ‘must not overlook’ the economic challenges facing the fast growing cities of Cambridge, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Swindon and Norwich.

The report, entitled ‘Fast Growth Cities: the opportunities and challenges ahead’, was published in association with the Fast Growth Cities group and suggests that these cities are playing an increasingly important role in the national economy, with higher productivity levels than bigger cities such as Manchester and Birmingham.

These fast growth cities are reportedly enjoying above average levels of employment and business start ups, but the report warns a number of significant economic challenges could threaten this success.

A key issue is housing, with the lack of new homes leading to higher housing prices and low affordability, which can prove to be a major barrier to recruiting and retaining workers. Another is increasing transport congestion due to a large influx of workers in the region. The report warns that current funding for transport infrastructure is too short term and has called for longer-term funding commitments.

The final key issue highlighted is a skills gap, as all of the fast growth cities were found to be affected by a skills shortage to some degree, meaning that businesses are struggling to recruit workers with the right skill-sets for the industries operating there.

Centre for Cities is calling for greater government recognition of the opportunities and challenges facing these cities, alongside focused policies to address them as part of ongoing devolution plans.

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “The government’s devolution agenda has understandably focused on boosting growth in some of the UK’s biggest city-economies, many of which are punching below their weight economically. However, for the government to realise its ambitions of building a more productive and higher-wage economy across the country, it’s crucial that it does not overlook the challenges facing the Fast Growth Cities group, which are among the most economically vibrant and innovative places in the UK.

“For these cities to continue to grow, it’s vital that they receive the kind of tailored policy support the government is putting in place for cities like Greater Manchester and Sheffield. It’s also important that any devolution deals involving the ‘Fast Growth’ cities respond to the specific obstacles and opportunities they face. If they are included in wider regional deals, those agreements should retain a strong urban focus, to make the most of the economic characteristics and strengths of these cities. This should be a key consideration for the government as it extends its devolution agenda in the coming years.”