London is good for other UK cities – and more empowered cities would be good for London

Cities Outlook 2014 was published today by Centre for Cities and launched in London’s Living Room at City Hall. It is well worth a read, and contains much thought-provoking material on the relationship between London and the UK’s other cities. Chapter 2 asks the question directly: “would UK cities be better off without London?”. The think-tank authors are clear the answer is ‘No’ and also reject the argument that the rest of the nation is a drain on the capital – “Neither position is accurate or helpful”. 

As the report shows, London is a huge magnet for young people from the UK, as for Europe and indeed the rest of the world. One in three people in their twenties who relocates in the UK moves to the capital. While there are off-setting movements in older groups, most to these households don’t go very far – over 60% moved to the Greater South East.

Is London’s success a threat to other cities? The report argues that policies to constrain London’s future growth in pursuit of ‘rebalancing’ the economy would do more harm than good. Centre for Cities’ data for this is by looking at employment in other cities by firms headquartered in London. This is an interesting approach, although I think it could be complemented by other ways of investigating how London’s international strengths support the national role of other cities – for example, the increased financial services roles of Leeds and Edinburgh in relation to London’s global role. 

The report’s strongest argument is perhaps that the UK’s other large cities current under-perform, not only in comparison with London, but also, as previous work by C4C has shown, by comparison with other European cities. The UK’s other big cities need more autonomy, and some of the policy levers and powers of London – as well as a directly elected Mayor. 

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