Cardiff fastest improving UK city in PwC’s Good Growth for Cities index

17 Mar 2022

  • Improvements in jobs, income and health see Cardiff at top of PwC’s index for change between 2017-2019 and 2018-2020 (latest dataset)

Cardiff is the fastest improving city in the UK according to the Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index, which ranks 50 of the UK’s largest cities - plus the London boroughs as a whole - for performance against a series of 12 variables, weighted against their importance to the public.

Cardiff’s marked improvement is driven in particular by its performance in jobs, income distribution, income and health. Its workforce grew by more than 20% in the decade leading up to the pandemic - 5,000 new jobs a year, the second fastest growth of all 50 cities in the report, with 2,000 jobs per year being created by the financial services sector alone.

The report notes Cardiff Council’s sector-focused approach to growth, targeting fin-tech, the creative industries, advanced manufacturing and technologies like compound semiconductors - and homegrown start ups such as fin-tech firms Delio and Wealthify and the TV production studio Bad Wolf.

Its ranking also benefited from multi-billion pound investments and private business partnerships for Central Square, Wales’ first Central Business District of scale, which is now home to the new headquarters of BBC Cymru. This comes amid investments from Cardiff University in its innovation campus developments and the University of South Wales in its School of Creative Industries.

Footfall in Cardiff has returned to pre-pandemic levels already and the investment in and around Central Square means the city is well placed to lead the economic recovery for Wales. In addition the local authority is also looking at development outside of Cardiff city centre - prioritising investment in infrastructure that will connect the wider region to the city. 

John-Paul Barker, PwC’s Market Lead in Wales, said:

“Cardiff has been on an upwards trajectory for a number of years now; rapid growth in jobs and improvements to business infrastructure are signs of confidence, and the public sector is reciprocating with partnerships and support for skills. 

“There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Cardiff has weathered the pandemic better than many larger cities, perhaps in part due to the movement of people from bigger cities to smaller ones amid a growing focus on wellbeing, the environment and income distribution.

“The next challenge for business leaders and local authorities will be to ensure the improvement Cardiff has made is consolidated as it recovers from the pandemic.”

Across the UK, the report found that smaller cities and towns are experiencing stronger growth when assessed against public priorities than those which are larger and more metropolitan amid an increased focus on wellbeing, the environment and income distribution.

Karen Finlayson, regional lead for government and health industries at PwC, said: 

“Once again, Southern cities dominate this year’s Good Growth Index. It’s clear that regional inequality remains a very clear reality that can’t be ignored. The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper was a welcome acknowledgment of what is a long-term and incredibly complex problem. Every individual city will face its own unique set of challenges and priorities that will need to be addressed through innovative, imaginative and tailored solutions. The provincial cities that are currently performing strongly will now have a different set of needs than larger metropolitan cities, some of which have experienced a period of poor growth.

“The growth we’re seeing in these areas, combined with changing priorities among the public, presents us with a golden chance for a big reset; this is a generational opportunity to accelerate the levelling up agenda. We must capitalise on the growth we’re seeing outside of our larger cities, which is driven in part by an increased focus on wellbeing and fairness, but there is only a small window to act, otherwise we risk drifting back to the status quo.”   


Shifting public priorities for growth 

The Good Growth for Cities Index measures cities’ performance against a series of 12 variables, each one weighted relative to how important it is considered by the 1,000 people surveyed as part of the study. In comparison to last year’s report, the importance given to these indicators by the members of the public who have been polled has shifted considerably. Jobs and skills, two of the most important variables last year, see significant decreases in their importance in the updated Index, most likely as a result of high levels of confidence in the employment market. In contrast, the environment and income distribution have seen significant increases.

Of the 12 variables included in this year’s index, the biggest driver for improvement for cities over the last three years has been better work-life balance. Broad improvements in the skills of older workers, as well as income distribution and life expectancy, have also seen the gap narrow slightly between the highest and lowest ranked cities.

However, several of the scores for several variables - those most likely to have been negatively impacted by the pandemic - have fallen over the past two years, including the number of new businesses opening, the strength of the high street and owner occupation rates. 

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