UK cities: going for good growth

11 March 2013

By Ray Mills, Infrastructure and Government Lead Partner

After five years of economic turbulence, the clamour for growth is increasing daily.  There are many prescriptions put forward to turn around the economy but while these debates rage on, the nature and definition of growth is generally taken for granted – the increase of ‘GDP’.

Even though, or perhaps because, all eyes are on our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), we need to step back and question whether this is the key barometer of our economic health.  After all, despite progress in measuring economic activity we are still using what is a fairly crude measure of national output, and one that can mask the real components of economic success.  If the pursuit of growth is essentially about improving the prosperity, life chances and wellbeing of citizens, is there more to the equation than a narrow focus on GDP?

This was the starting point for a debate when Greg Clark, Government Minister for Cities, joined us at our More London offices to discuss how we can achieve ‘good growth’ in UK’s urban areas. We were joined by leading experts in city growth policy – including council leaders, think tank chief executives and representatives from business - to reflect upon the findings from our research with think tank Demos, launched late last year.

In this research, we created a Good Growth for Cities Index, based on the views of the public on what economic success means to them.  Within the Index, good growth encompasses broader measures of economic wellbeing including jobs, income, health, work-life balance, housing, transport infrastructure and the environment - the factors that the public have told us are most important to the work and money side of their lives. 

Local economic development and policy is ultimately about choices and priorities - where to take action and invest scarce resources to promote growth. The Good Growth Index provides a framework for allocating resources and investment, driving decisions based on what people want. This is an opportunity to move beyond the narrow confines of GVA and for city leadership to start with the outcomes that people – the voters - value and so providing a more democratic dimension to the decisions made.

As the City Deals programme unfolds, national government needs to focus on how to unlock individual growth challenges for each city.  All eyes are now on the Budget to see whether Lord Heseltine’s proposals will provide the new wave of powers and funding needed for our cities to deliver growth. But whatever national policy changes arise, if, at a local level, we can give the public a role in determining what’s most important for urban economic development, the future for our cities will brighten.

Ray Mills
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