Counties just outside of London hold some of the best cities to live for a prosperous lifestyle and salary, a new study from Grant Thornton UK LLP reveals.
The Vibrant Economy Index – which looks at 324 local authorities across England – finds Cambridge, Oxford, Richmond upon Thames, South Cambridgeshire and Guildford are the best cities to start a business, boasting a good balance between economic growth, social equality, sustainability and healthy, happy people.
The index measures how towns and cities in England compare on a range of factors from prosperity to health, wellbeing and happiness, and inclusion and equality.
Economic prosperity over happiness?
The index finds traditional indicators of economic prosperity – which include GVA, average earnings and business turnover – do not correlate in any significant way with other measurements of performance, such as health, equality and opportunity.
This indicates that efforts that solely focus on improving the economic performance of a place do not always translate into creating a healthy, happy place to live, or one in which individuals feel part of their community.
Local authorities in places like London and the Leeds City Region score highly for prosperity, meaning they have higher Gross Added Value, higher pay levels, and attract more businesses. However, the affluence in these places does not necessarily translate into communities that are more inclusive or healthier.
Where are the best cities?
For example, in places like Leeds, there are higher numbers of young people not in education, employment and training, a larger proportion of people claiming benefits, and lower average incomes, meaning that while its economy is relatively affluent, it is underperforming compared to some places in terms of inclusivity and equality.
In London, where local authorities see strong levels of prosperity, populations in these areas are significantly more likely to be anxious.
In Birmingham, high levels of economic prosperity hide the fact that there are a number of notable public health challenges including above average levels of diabetes and child obesity with the result that life expectancy is low.
The Vibrant Economy Index, based on 52 indicators of performance, tracks factors that enable businesses, communities and individuals to thrive in the best cities. These include economic measures such as GVA, educational attainment and average incomes, and combines them with data around fuel poverty, obesity levels, air quality and crime rates to give a picture of how a place is performing not just economically, but also socially.
Places were measured by key factors in each performance indicator and awarded an overall ‘vibrancy’ score, with 100 being the national average.
Cambridge is England’s most vibrant place
Cambridge tops the index, scoring highly on dynamism and opportunity (134.14), which measures innovation and entrepreneurship. It also scores above the average of 100 for community, trust & belonging (110.04), which measures how safe and engaged people feel in their community.
With a world-class university and renowned tech cluster, the strength of Cambridge’s knowledge economy is evident: its high patent registration (491.66 per 100,000 residents) is more than 10 times the national average (46.6 per 100,000 residents); the proportion of employees working in research and development is almost 11 times the national average (4.93 per cent compared to 0.45 per cent).
While Cambridge performs well on prosperity (106.35), it’s score is lower than Leeds, Reading, Manchester and Oxford, demonstrating that social and economic performance relies on more than just high GVA and employment levels.
Sacha Romanovitch, CEO of Grant Thornton, thinks that if we want an economy that works, then it must provide opportunities for everyone.
Romanovitch adds, ‘We’re hearing loud and clear the messages about what divides us in the UK. That means we need more than ever to build a vibrant economy where people are engaged in their local communities, where communities trust local businesses and local government, and where businesses can invest and grow.
“We need an economy that produces wealth and creates jobs, one where the trust and integrity of businesses and institutions enables entrepreneurial and innovative growth, and where everyone can benefit from that economic growth in a healthy and active environment, which must be sustainable for the long-term.