By Dave Baldwin
A record reduction in unemployment and significant growth in skills have helped Bradford to claim the title of Britain’s most improved city in an influential annual report on economic wellbeing.
The nationwide study, Good Growth for Cities 2019 by think tank Demos and accountancy firm PwC, measures the performance of 42 of the UK’s largest cities against a range of 10 priorities including jobs, health, income, skills, work-life balance, housing affordability, travel-to-work times, income equality, environment and business start-ups.
For the fourth year running, Oxford and Reading have been named the top-performing cities, followed by Southampton in third place. But Bradford emerged as this year’s top improver, driven by jobs, work-life balance and skills among those aged 25 and over.
The Demos-PwC report singled out Bradford for the largest improvement in the jobs score of any city in the UK between 2015 and 2018 with unemployment falling from 10 per cent to 4.1 per cent over the period. It also showed how more than 43 per cent of adults held at least an NVQ level 3 qualification in 2018, compared to 39 per cent in 2015.
Despite the standout jobs performance, challenges remain in Bradford. The report identified how incomes in general and skills among 16-24 year-olds fell over the period. But it pointed out that improvements in these two variables could see the city move further up the index in coming years.
Ben Glover, senior researcher at Demos, said: “Our research shows we have a positive story to tell about our cities: three-quarters have experienced an improvement in their index score this year. We are delighted to see the great city of Bradford crowned this year’s top improver, largely due to an impressive fall in its unemployment rate.
“But in Bradford and beyond, city leaders cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Our research finds declining scores for housing affordability, home ownership and health. Failure to tackle these issues will act as a real constraint on these cities in the future.
“This will require local policymakers to find new ways of putting local people at the heart of decision making, recognising they don’t have all the answers themselves. Only then will the power of our communities be harnessed, allowing our cities to reach their full potential.”
Every city in the UK faces challenges, wherever they are in their arc of development. In the study, higher performing places demonstrated declines in housing affordability and owner occupation – described as the “price of success” – while lower performing cities saw falls in health, work-life balance and transport scores.
Still, the Demos-PwC report made brilliant headlines for Bradford and provided further evidence for those outside the district we are bouncing back to the big league after some difficult years. Dr Zulficar Ali, of the Sweet Centre, told the BBC that while the textile mills have largely gone, a new breed of entrepreneur is now emerging in the city. (Indeed, there were 4,127 new start-ups in Bradford in 2018.)
“The changes have uplifted the city hugely. It’s a vibrant city, a cultural capital. It’s a great place to live and work and there’s such a great potential,” added Dr Ali, whose famous Manningham restaurant was founded by his family in 1964.
The Guardian pitched in with a guide of the best things to see and do in Bradford, including visits to the Prashad, Karachi and Waterside Bistro restaurants, Bradford Literature Festival, National Science and Media Museum, The Brick Box, Haworth, Saltaire, Salts Mill, North Parade, Common Wealth Theatre, The 1 In 12 Club, Fuse Art Galley, South Square and Kirkgate Centre.
Catherine Riley, manager of the Kirkgate Shopping Centre and a member of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce 2019 leadership group, told the BBC: “Our UK Capital of Culture bid in 2025 is coming and will improve the perception of the city. There’s a growing feel-good factor.”
There certainly is. We are delighted that the underlying social and economic progress has been highlighted in the Demos-PwC report. It follows big votes of confidence in our district from the likes of NEC, Channel 4 and PwC itself, which opened a new assurance centre in Bradford earlier this year. We want everybody in the city to have the chance to succeed, whatever their background. We don’t want anybody to be left behind as our district rises up the rankings.