Bristol rises one place in 2019 PwC Good Growth for Cities index


Bristol continues to excel in the latest PwC Good Growth for Cities Index, which measures some of the largest UK cities against ten indicators chosen by the public and business to demonstrate economic success and wellbeing.

Bristol rose one place to fourth from last year and the region’s other cities, Swindon (eighth) and Plymouth (15th), are also among the best performers in the 42-city index. Employment, health, income and skills are the most important factors, while housing affordability, commuting times, environmental factors and income inequality are also included in the index, as well as business start-ups.

Ahead of Bristol for the fourth year running, the two highest performing UK cities on the 2019 index are Oxford and Reading, followed by Southampton in third and Milton Keynes in fifth.

Bristol’s biggest increase since the 2015-17 index was in skills of 16-24-year-olds, while the rise in the cost of housing relative to earnings was its biggest negative score. For the environment variable, only Bristol in the West region performed above average, although all cities saw absolute increases in their index values.

Bristol and Plymouth saw above average movements in their transport, health and skills of 25+ year-olds relative to the 2018 index. However, Bristol, Plymouth and Swindon have seen below average movements in their jobs, income (Plymouth) and work-life balance (Plymouth and Swindon) scores.

This is partly driven by the relative improvements of other cities, rather than strong declines in a given variable. For example, only Swindon experienced a fall in its jobs score (despite Bristol and Plymouth being categorised as experiencing ‘below average’ movements).

Historically a strong performer, Swindon has fallen by one place this year, with poorer health, costlier housing and skills of 16-24 year olds. Indeed, it is the only city from the West that saw a fall in transport, health and skills of 25+ year-olds relative to the 2018 index. 

Plymouth saw a below average movement in its jobs, income and work-life balance scores, which saw it drop three places overall from 2018. Housing in the city is more affordable than before - one of only five places where this happened (from 2015-17 to 2016-18).

John-Paul Barker, PwC’s West and Wales regional leader, commented:

“Our Good Growth for Cities index shows that there’s more to life, work and general wellbeing than just measuring GDP. 

“I’m delighted to see Bristol continuing to perform strongly in our latest index, it’s a vibrant city with so much going for it. In fact, the region as a whole performs well across a wide mix of indicators with Swindon maintaining its top ten status, despite falls in some of the measures.

 "The progress made by cities across the South West and Wales is to be welcomed, but also presents some challenges. It is critical that the local authorities and their partners in this area continue to focus on their approach to managing rapid growth, ensuring that its benefits are distributed fairly across all sections of society.”

Ben Pykett, Local Public Services Director, commented:

“This year’s data highlights the importance of focussing on the things that make their local area unique as a means of delivering tangible improvements in cities across the UK. 

“In the most successful examples, local leaders are using detailed data sets to generate real insight about the needs of communities, residents, businesses and visitors. They are able to tell compelling stories about what makes their areas special and how this could be used as a basis for further improvement in the future. 

“In some areas, public, private and community and voluntary organisations have begun to align their delivery plans to address their specific challenges and opportunities. In most places, more could be done to structure the way in which place planning and delivery is undertaken.”

PwC partner and local government leader Jonathan House commented:

“In an era of political, technological and environmental disruption, cities and regions that want to get ahead, need to do things differently. Even with the uncertainty of Brexit, over the last year, local leaders have had significant success in delivering good growth in their cities and regions. Our research shows the need to take a comprehensive approach to growth, focusing on improving productivity to compete on a global stage, but also on ensuring fairness and inclusive growth so that people and places don’t feel left behind.  

“Local leaders need to take a broad view on what economic success means, focusing on the outcomes they want to achieve in terms of inclusive growth, community resilience and improved experience, and crucially, having a plan to translate those ambitions into reality. 

“Skills among the working age population, alongside the number of new businesses created, have seen the largest improvements; this is a result of leaders focusing on building new opportunities and investing in the talent of their city and region. 

“The UK’s cities are known globally for their skills, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Our most successful cities don’t compete against other UK cities, they compete against cities across Europe, the Middle East and the US. As the UK’s position on the world stage shifts, cities and regions will need to reposition themselves too, and consider how they can stand out and compete globally, improve productivity and support innovation, while also creating places that are fair and inclusive.”

Bristol and Cardiff have seen strong improvements since 2005-07, with Bristol improving by 0.28 and Cardiff improving by 0.42 over this time. This has primarily been driven by an improvement in the skills of 25-64 year olds, which has improved by 2.47 in Bristol and 2.23 in Cardiff since 2005-07. However, both cities have seen significant reductions in transport and owner occupation over the period. Bristol has consistently performed above the national average, while Cardiff has been below average during the period. Despite narrowing the gap in 2012-14, Cardiff has fallen back and is now 0.13 below the average index score. However, this gap has continued to narrow since 2015-17.

Our Good Growth for Cities index shows that there’s more to life, work and general wellbeing than just measuring GDP.

John-Paul Barker, West and Wales regional leader

This edition of Good Growth for Cities was published in 2019. While we believe the content remains of interest, it doesn’t take into account major events since that date, including the recent global COVID-19 pandemic. Find out more on the potential business implications of COVID-19 here.

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Neale Graham

Senior manager, Communications, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7801 766188

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