PwC: Priorities for ‘good growth’ in Scotland shift after pandemic with focus on fairness

Scottish cities are emerging from the pandemic with renewed priorities, largely focused on fairness, the environment and an improved work-life balance, according to this year’s The Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index.

PwC: Priorities for ‘good growth’ in Scotland shift after pandemic with focus on fairness

The index, which ranks 50 of the UK’s largest cities and has been running for 10 years, is based on 12 key factors, including jobs, health, income and skills, as well as work-life balance, house affordability, travel-to-work times, income equality, environment and the rate of business start-ups.

Changing consumer priorities have led to an overhaul of how the Index is determined, meaning it is not possible to draw comparisons with previous years. This year Edinburgh is placed in the first half of the Index, at 19th, while Aberdeen and Glasgow are 37th and 42nd respectively.

For this year’s Index, the weightings of existing variables have changed after polling showed that public opinion on what was important has shifted considerably in the wake of the pandemic. Jobs and skills, two of the most important variables last year, see significant decreases in their importance in the updated Index. In contrast, the environment and income distribution have seen significant increases.

For the first time, two new indicators - safety and high street and shops - have been added to the index, taking the number of variables measured to 12.

In addition, the Index takes into account a city’s sectoral make-up, the impact of the use of the furlough scheme to protect jobs, and rates of Universal Credit claims, Covid infection and mobility rates to estimate GVA growth for 2021 and 2022.

By this measure, the average annual economic growth rate for cities in Scotland is 7.1% in 2021. This is slightly below the UK average rate of 7.4% in 2021. Aberdeen and Edinburgh are showing the strongest levels of recovery, growing by approx. 7.5% and 7.6% in 2021, with Glasgow at 6.7% for 2021.

In 2022, these trends are expected to continue – Aberdeen and Edinburgh’s economies are expected to grow by 5.5%, above the UK average growth rate in the year. Glasgow is estimated to grow by 4.4% in 2022, although original base-year effects ought to be considered.

Overall, the report underlines how the North-South divide continues to present a challenge for the UK, with Oxford, Bournemouth, Swindon, Reading and Milton Keynes making up the top five in the overall index while cities in the North and Midlands largely account for those that sit at the bottom.

Cities across Scotland perform well across three key criteria: skills, where all cities, score at or above the national average; transport, where all cities score at or above average; and house price to earnings, where the cities included in the index score significantly above average. However, Scottish cities score less well on health, new businesses and owner occupation.

Stewart Wilson, government and public sector leader for PwC in Scotland, commented: “People in Scotland are placing greater value on different aspects of their life than in previous years of our Index, such as wellbeing and environment. Therefore our cities need to apply even greater precision to how they plan for inclusive growth”.

“It’s encouraging to see our cities scoring above average in work-life balance, which has become more important to the public since the onset of the pandemic. Our major cities also outscore the average in areas like skills and housing affordability, though these indicators carry less weight than previous due to shifting priorities among the public.

“Meanwhile, Scotland’s cities are below average when it comes to job and new business creation – along with health.

“Prosperity is about so much more than economic growth, and the things that make cities thrive change over time, which is why our Good Growth for Cities Index considers 12 factors, and with every individual city facing its own unique set of challenges and priorities, these must be addressed through innovative, imaginative and tailored solutions.”

Matthew Hall, senior partner at PwC’s Edinburgh office, added: “Edinburgh remains the best performing city in Scotland and benefits from its historic home to many large financial services businesses, as well as the home of the Scottish Parliament.

“However, our research shows that whilst the city has a great deal of high paid jobs and low paid jobs, there is a significant shortage between the two - pointing to a missing middle in Edinburgh’s workforce. The local authority and its partners are focusing on reskilling to support workers to progress in their careers, which provides an opportunity to bridge this gap in the labour market.

“However, this task is not without its own challenges. Unlike many rival cities, Edinburgh lacks brownfield sites for development and there is a continued need for more space to allow local businesses to scale up and grow sustainably.”

Robin McBurnie, senior partner at PwC’s Glasgow office, commented: “We saw last year with COP26 how Glasgow is a modern, vibrant city with global relevance, however its low placing on the Index highlights long-term challenges within the city. Glasgow performs below average in a number of key indicators, including health, income and job creation.

“However, our city is one of enormous potential, with skills, equality in income, work-life balance and housing affordability all above average. There are enormous efforts underway in the city to improve our infrastructure and housing needs while work on both sides of the river shows Glasgow’s appeal as both a business and tourism centre.”

Martin Cowie, senior partner for PwC in Aberdeen, said: “The rebasing of the Good Growth for Cities Index means Aberdeen features lower than it did on the previous Index. We perform strongly on youth skills, though with Aberdeen tracking among average on a lot of the metrics, the decline in employment rate between 2017-19 to 2018-20 has impacted the city’s position in this year’s Index.

“As our Green Jobs Barometer highlighted however, Scotland and in particular the North-East is the best-placed part of the UK for green jobs, which given our role at the centre of energy transition puts Aberdeen in a strong position.

“The launch in February of the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 Investment Tracker shows the scale of investment in the local economy with billions of pounds being lined up to re-invent the area, and as part of the business community in the North East we look forward to supporting innovation and growth in the region.”

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