How data can drive Good Growth for Cities
December 09, 2019
If the 2010s will be remembered for the twisting turns of Brexit, an explosion of new technologies, and mounting concerns about the environment, they will also be rather prosaically known as a decade of public sector funding pressures and slower economic growth. As we enter a new chapter in public spending, it’s a good time to reflect on the impact of sustained years of reduced funding and slow economic recovery from recession and how they have reshaped the places in which we live.
Our recently launched Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index provides an evidence-based framework for evaluating the performance of UK cities against the 10 things the public think are most important when it comes to economic well-being. Meanwhile, published in the same week, a PwC-supported report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) explores the trends and challenges to local government funding in 2019 and beyond.
The IFS evidence backs up what we have seen happening in councils across the country. Cuts to funding from central government mean that councils’ spending is increasingly focused on social care services - now 57% of all service budgets. Cuts have also fallen disproportionately on less affluent areas. Our Good Growth findings show a similar theme, and cities in less affluent regions typically have lower scores than their more affluent peers, driven by weaker performance in some of the more highly weighted elements of the index such as jobs, income and skills.
Addressing such imbalances in the UK is a huge challenge, and one our Future of Government research programme is exploring through the lens of fairness. For councils, an important part of the response must be a refreshed focus on the role that they can play in supporting local growth. And when I say growth, I don’t just mean GDP or GVA. I mean growth in its broadest sense - in the sense that it matters to the general public. For Good Growth for Cities, that includes jobs, income and skills, but also health, housing and the environment. Our Index assesses 42 cities against these measures. The huge amount of data we collect allows us to gain a broad perspective on economic success across the UK.
On its own, data has limited intrinsic use - it’s the patterns and stories that we can identify within data sets that really matter. Councils can learn from data and use it to develop and shape their good growth story. 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.
Finding a city’s unique narrative isn’t always easy, but when it comes to promoting good growth, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t cut it. The most successful councils are those that have aligned their strategies and delivery plans to address their specific challenges and opportunities, and delivered tangible improvements as a result. As we enter the 2020s, it’s essential that we learn from these successes and use data to start measuring what matters most to the public, in order to deliver good growth for all UK cities and regions.