Good growth for cities

Unlocking the potential of UK cities

Good Growth for Cities
  • Issue
  • May 23, 2023

The Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities report looks at how the radical reshaping of public and private sector roles would help our cities respond to current challenges, while at the same time steer us towards growth and genuine levelling up.

Read our report and explore the data.


Our cities are often places of huge disparity, where social, economic and health outcomes are determined by factors such as where you live, your background, and your ability to access opportunities. This report shows disparity remains visible across UK cities, from those living in inner-city areas impacted by low air quality, to those who cannot afford to travel to employment hubs and are therefore unable to access high quality, well paid jobs.

With our Good Growth for Cities Index, we are able to present a clear picture of what matters to the public now - and look at how central and local government, the private sector and wider local public services can work together to deliver inclusive growth. The Index covers broad measures of economic wellbeing, including jobs, income, health, skills, work-life balance, housing, transport and the environment.

The Index shows public priorities are turning firmly towards immediate needs, as soaring inflation wears away the value of people's pay packets amid a fragile economic outlook. Income, jobs and the fair distribution of wealth are now key concerns.

From our conversations with local leaders, at the frontline of current challenges, it is obvious they are in the thick of making many difficult decisions, and are braced for more. But they still have the desire - and the opportunity - to level up the UK and unlock the potential of our cities.

DEMOS logo

Key findings

  • Households across the UK are struggling with the soaring cost of living, prompting priorities to shift towards economic factors. In particular, the public is placing more importance on income, jobs and the fair distribution of wealth.
  • Oxford and Swindon top this year’s Index, with Exeter rising significantly to third - performing strongly on health, jobs and safety. Oxford does well on income, employment rates and life expectancy to maintain first place.
  • The gap between the highest and lowest ranked UK cities in the index is narrowing, with the ten lowest ranked cities showing a larger average rate of improvement over the last year than the ten highest ranked cities. However, progress is too slow and the report shows little evidence of the regional disparity gap narrowing overall.
  • People are prioritising work-life balance more and this is helping to unlock growth across UK cities. Changing employment patterns are allowing workers more flexibility, offering greater control over working location and, in many cases, supporting better balance between work and personal commitments.

“Without the redistribution of accountabilities and responsibilities from a central to a local level, places will not be able to respond to their own needs and opportunities. A new type of devolution is needed."

Carl SizerHead of UK Regions and Platforms, PwC UK

Agenda for action

We believe the key to addressing these challenges and levelling up our cities is a move towards a model of inclusive growth which balances productivity, the environment, and community outcomes. To achieve this, there needs to be a further devolution of governance and powers to a regional and local level.

In the Agenda for Action section of our report, we explore what a move to an interconnected system of governance could look like - and how it could drive good growth. We lay out the steps that could be taken towards ambitious public sector reform would be best focused around three key areas:

Delivering productivity through specific place-based strategies

Local leaders are best placed to develop strategies and plans that take account of the specific opportunities and challenges in their area. Through their understanding of their local areas and engagement with communities and businesses they are well positioned to bring together economic and skills development, investment, and infrastructure planning.


Moving towards low carbon local economies

Cities need to rethink how they use their resources to create a balance between providing access to essentials - health, income, housing, transport, and so on - with their natural, environmental boundaries. This requires a shift to a low carbon economy that is regenerative by design, rather than one that focuses on growth at all costs. To achieve this transition and maximise value for money, projects can be prioritised based on the specific characteristics, needs and opportunities of their location. This in turn requires a balance of central government policymaking, local government delivery, and private sector innovation.

Creating local communities that thrive

Inclusive growth is about more than just economic success and productivity, it is also about creating thriving communities with opportunities to improve their well-being. Public services that meet the needs and aspirations of the people that use them are key to building the community capital that makes a city a place where people can live happy, healthy and sustainable lives.

Regional spotlights

London either performs very well or very badly - leading in New Businesses and High Streets but placing last in Housing.

Belfast remains the top performing devolved city, but performance has worsened this year.

Cities are improving, but there are still significant challenges around health and employment opportunities.

City specific challenges drive varied performance across the North West.

Persistent health inequalities prevent Scottish cities unlocking potential from their well skilled workforce.

City specific challenges drive significantly varied performance across the South East.

House price to earnings and new businesses hold back an otherwise strong all-round performance.

Income equality and work life balance are shining lights in an otherwise middling performance.

High unemployment rates and low salaries restrict cities from capitalising on strong infrastructure.

City specific challenges drive varied performance across the East Midlands.

Performance on income equality and safety is reasonably strong amid an otherwise average performance.

Owner Occupation and Health are strengths while Housing and High Streets impede the East of England.

< Back

< Back
[+] Read More

Contact us

Rachel Taylor

Rachel Taylor

Leader of Industry for Government and Health Industries, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7841 783022

Quentin  Cole

Quentin Cole

Head of Industries, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7770 303846

Carl Sizer

Carl Sizer

Chief Markets Officer, PwC United Kingdom

Follow us