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Good Growth for Cities

The local economic impact of COVID-19

The Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index looks beyond GDP and measures economic performance through the lens of the public's priorities. How resilient is your city and what does post-COVID-19 recovery look like? Explore our latest Good Growth insights.


Good Growth for Cities

Good Growth for Cities measures the performance of the UK’s largest cities against 10 indicators that the public think are most important when it comes to economic wellbeing. The Index was developed by PwC and the think tank Demos in the aftermath of the financial crisis in response to the sense that we need to look beyond GDP headlines to measure economic success.

The pandemic has changed many things, but the public’s priorities have stayed consistent. Jobs and health are the two most important factors in the eyes of the public, alongside housing, income, skills, transport, income distribution, work-life balance, the environment and business start-ups.

While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still unfolding, our latest report explores the economic impact of COVID-19 on cities across the UK in 2020 and their recovery prospects for 2021.

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Key findings

  • Many of the cities that perform strongly in Good Growth look set to withstand the worst impacts of the pandemic. Cities including Edinburgh, Norwich, Aberdeen, Swindon, Portsmouth and Southampton have been relatively less economically impacted. Their sectoral mix and performance on broader social and economic indicators has to some extent provided resilience.
  • Those cities that have been hardest hit are projected to bounce back strongest in 2021. Many poorer performing cities in the Good Growth Index have been hit hard by the pandemic, including Liverpool, Southend, Medway, Bradford and Doncaster. These cities have been more vulnerable to the volatility of the pandemic and, while they are expected to grow back strongest in 2021, their economies will still be smaller in 2021 than they were in 2019. In the longer term they will need to build resilience against future crises.
  • Before the pandemic, average scores for health and the skills of young people had started to decline. The latest Index also shows that the gap between those cities at the top of the index and those at the bottom had started to widen after many years of narrowing. These are all trends that the pandemic has amplified and are challenges for recovery and ‘levelling up’.
  • Despite the pandemic, the public’s views on what matters most has remained consistent; health and jobs. Health and jobs are consistently the two factors that are most important to the public, and, followed by housing, income and skills. Addressing these factors and putting the public at the heart of the recovery will be key.
  City 2020 annual GVA growth rate - least impacted City 2021 annual GVA growth rate (strongest)
1 Edinburgh -9.1% Medway 5.7%
2 Norwich -9.1% Doncaster 5.6%
3 Aberdeen -9.3% Liverpool 5.4%
4 Swindon -9.6% Southend 5.4%
5 Portsmouth -9.8% Bradford 5.3%
6 Southampton -9.9% Manchester 5.1%
7 Oxford -9.9% Wakefield & Castleford 5.0%
8 Brighton -10.0% Cardiff 4.9%
9 Birkenhead -10.1% Middlesbrough & Stockton 4.9%
10 Reading -10.3% Derby 4.9%

Find out more about good growth in your city and region

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Strategies for local recovery

As we look to the recovery, it’s clear we need to take a broader approach to economic growth. One that embraces social, health and economic outcomes more fully. For cities and towns across the country, a place-based approach to recovery is needed, encompassing:

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Creating fair and inclusive places by focusing on the most vulnerable communities and those most in need, including younger workers entering a disrupted labour market, ethnic minorities and those on low incomes.

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Creating places for business by fostering a commercial culture that supports entrepreneurship, investment and innovation. Skills and connectivity will be key to economic recovery in the longer term.

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Creating liveable, vibrant and unique places, with thriving town centres and high streets, that attract individuals, families and communities to work, live and visit.

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Creating green and sustainable places, embedding environment sustainability, clean air and net zero at the heart of recovery plans.

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Putting the public at the heart of the recovery and taking a broad approach to economic and social wellbeing to build resilience against future crises and deliver a fair recovery from COVID-19.

Regional Spotlights

View the local authorities included in each city.

London performs well on new businesses per head, income and skills.

As a whole, cities in the Midlands perform well on environment, owner occupation and income distribution.

The region's economy is set to recover better than the UK average rate of recovery in 2021.

Cities across the North West perform very differently across the index.

Scottish cities continue to perform well with two making it into the top ten of our Index.

Seven out of nine cities in the South East score above the UK average, including 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.

Bristol and Swindon are in the top fifteen of this year’s Good Growth Index, while Plymouth slips to 19th.

Cardiff ranks 27th in this year’s Good Growth Index, with Swansea at 38th.

Leeds is the highest ranked city in this region.

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Spotlight: Business in focus podcast

Good Growth for Cities

The need to level up the UK has long been recognised - and COVID-19 has only intensified this challenge. It’s no longer enough to drive growth in the left-behind regions; right now, it’s about tackling deep-rooted inequalities in every part of the UK - even in some of its wealthiest areas. In this episode, host Rowena Morris is joined by Zoe Watters, a corporate finance partner in our Real Assets practice, and Stewart Wilson, our Local Public Services lead partner, to discuss how we can navigate ever-changing restrictions while setting the foundations for a fair, inclusive and sustainable economic recovery.

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Contact us

Karen Finlayson

Karen Finlayson

Risk Assurance Partner and Regional Lead for Government, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7881 805552

Jonathan House

Jonathan House

Health Industries and Devolved and Local Government Advisory Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7791 114593

Daniel Burke

Daniel Burke

Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7764 661609

Quentin  Cole

Quentin Cole

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

Tel: +44 (0)7770 303846

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