Belfast 4th largest improved UK city since financial crash

  • Belfast has been named the fourth largest improved UK city since the financial crisis, with Derry seeing the biggest improvement of all 11 devolved cities over the last 12 months, according to a new report.

    The latest Demos-PwC 'Good Growth for Cities' 2019 index found that the creation of jobs and environmental improvements are the strongest areas of progress in the two NI cities over the last year.

    However slower growth in key areas has seen Belfast slide down the UK league table. Northern Ireland's capital scored below average increases in skills, income and the formation of new businesses. It is now ranked 34th out of 42 cities; in 2016, it was 26th.

    Although still eleventh out of 11 devolved cities, Derry saw the biggest improvement of all.

    Published today, the 'Good Growth for Cities' index checks the performance of 42 of the UK’s largest cities against 10 indicators. These are based on the public’s views of what constitutes economic success and wellbeing.

    The most important factors as judged by the public include employment, health, income and skills. Others incorporate housing affordability, commuting times, environmental factors and income inequality.

    Since the financial crash Belfast’s overall index score has improved, with only London, Liverpool and Newcastle performing better. This has primarily been driven by an improvement in the skills of people aged 16 - 54.

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    Skills in Belfast employees aged 16-24 has seen the greatest improvement, in contrast to a slight decline across other UK cities.

    Another recent PwC report found people in Northern Ireland are being offered more upskilling opportunities by employers to adjust to increasing automation in the workplace than any other UK region. Four out of five workers would take the opportunity to better understand and use new technologies. 

    While Belfast is below the average in terms of new business creation, it has still made progress in the increase of start-ups as well as in income and in the reduction of carbon emissions.

    PwC partner and local government leader Jonathan House commented that “even with the uncertainty of Brexit, local leaders have had significant success in delivering good growth in their cities and regions.”

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    In 2018 Belfast City Council was recognised for making the most improvement in its recycling performance, in comparison to councils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. PwC found this to be a result of the ‘No Food Waste in Black Bins’ campaign which led to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Belfast’s index score has dropped due to housing affordability becoming more challenging and an increase in the number of people working over 45 hours per week. This is thought to impact on work/life balance, reduced owner occupation and income distribution. The biggest decline for the city was in commuting times.

    Derry saw above average growth in income distribution compared to the 11 cities in the devolved nations on the list, as well as improvements in new jobs, income, new businesses, skills and a reduction in carbon emissions.

    All cities measured in the index scored below average when it came to health, which is measured by the percentage of the population who are economically inactive or deemed to have long-term sickness.

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    Northern Ireland has seen a decrease in score since last year as more than half (56%) of people who were unemployed in August have now been unemployed for one year or more. Only Aberdeen measured better than the average in the index.

    Belfast City Council Chief Executive Suzanne Wylie said that as the council works to “deliver the Belfast City Region Deal, we will be focusing on developing a distinct set of industries and growth sectors but we cannot do it alone; so I’m delighted that Derry has also experienced significant growth as it makes the whole of the North much more competitive on a global scale which can only be good news for the entire region.”

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    2019 full list of index ranking

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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