When measured against the priorities chosen by the public, Southampton has again scored above the UK average and in fact ranks the third highest in our national index - yet it continues to face economic challenges.
There have also been improvements in income, the skills among the adult population and house price to earnings.
Southampton’s economy is estimated to grow by 4.2% in 2021 compared to the average of 4.8%. This is due to the sectoral mix within Southampton, which has a greater reliance on sectors that have been heavily impacted by the pandemic, such as transportation and storage.
This sector alone, which contains the cruise ship industry, has contracted by 22.9% in 2020 and is predicted to grow only by 4.1% in 2021.
Some of the initiatives the city is pursuing in response to these economic challenges and to build on its unique strengths include a proposed reconfiguration of the airport runway, the application for Freeport status, a £55m investment in a new next-generation ready cruise ship terminal, supported by the Solent LEP, bidding for City of Culture 2025 and Fawley Waterside, an ambitious £1 billion development of an intelligent merchant city that is creating homes and jobs on the doorstep of the New Forest and Solent region.
Southampton has undoubtedly fared better than many cities across the UK and there are some key initiatives planned that will help in terms of building a stronger future. But one thing the pandemic has made us more acutely aware of is the existing economic and social inequalities and why it is so important to ‘level up’ across the UK.
It reinforces our view in Good Growth for Cities of the necessity to look beyond GDP and headlines about the North-South divide to focus efforts on tackling the issues that really matter to the public - and local economies - such as skills, sustainable income and health and wellbeing.
A broad-brush approach to ‘levelling-up’ will not address the challenges facing the places that have been hardest hit. We need a precise approach which takes into account the strengths and needs of individual towns and cities to build more resilience and drive a fair recovery across the UK.
South East, PwC United Kingdom