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Published: Thursday, 28th February 2019

Centre for Cities report shows how social care is dominating council spending and checks on the economic progress of urban areas.

In their latest Cities Outlook report the Centre for Cities assessed how council spending has changed in urban areas over the past ten years and in its “city monitor” section, it gauged the performance of the 60+ urban areas it defines as “cities”. Among the findings, a West Midlands city had the fastest population growth in the country, while there was also a notable success in the region for innovation and a serious challenge for employment.

Winners and losers

With the body of the report looking at the extent to which funding for the main urban areas has been reduced, the Centre for Cities notes that austerity has not been equally shared across government departments, commenting that departmental spending on local government has seen “its budget being cut by more than half between its peak in 2009/10 and 2015/16”.

While not all council funding comes from central government, it does make up a significant proportion of it, with reductions having consequent knock-on effects. Looking at the total change in spending in the main urban areas by local authorities between 2009/10 and 2017/18, the Centre found a range running from a reduction of over 40% in Barnsley to an increase of nearly 21% in Luton, albeit one of only two urban areas that saw an increase.

Within the West Midlands, Stoke experienced the biggest spending cut at 24%, followed by Coventry and Telford, at around 19.5% each, with Birmingham’s 13%. It’s worth noting at this point, that the Centre for Cities identifies over 60 “cities”, including many areas not usually considered as such. Moreover, these cities do not always have the same boundaries as the councils of the same name. This means that Stoke also takes in Newcastle under Lyme, while Birmingham refers to an area that also encompasses the Black Country and Solihull. More straight forwardly, the Centre’s definitions of Telford and Coventry are the same as the relevant council areas.

Primarily providers of social care or something more?

In the context of demographic change, there have been some significant increases in social care spending. Illustrating the range of changes within the region, it seems that between 2009/10 and 2017/18,  spending on social care in Stoke increased by over 16%, by 10.6% in Coventry, by 5% in Telford and by just over 1% in Birmingham. At the same time, with overall budgets falling and cuts being made to non-statutory services, social care has increased its share of the spending. Indeed, the report highlighted that the number of cities spending more than half of their budget on social care had increased eight fold since 2009/10. With Barnsley estimated to spend more than 60% of its budget on social care, the report asked rhetorically whether city authorities are “primarily providers of social care? Or are they also shapers and custodians of their place?”.

City monitor

The Centre for Cities’ report also includes a “city monitor” which covers aspects of performance such as population, business dynamics, productivity, employment, housing and the environment.

Among the indicators, it’s worth noting that Coventry topped the list of the fastest growing cities for 2016-17, with its population increasing by some 2%. Also among the top five growth rates was Telford, where its 1.2% put it in fourth place. With the UK’s population growing by just over half a percent that year, the only cities that saw decreases were Aldershot, Aberdeen, Oxford and Luton. Elsewhere, Coventry also featured due to its relative strength in innovation. In 2017, the city managed to split Cambridge and Oxford to register the second highest ratio of patents per resident.

The performance of the region’s larger urban areas in some of the other measures was less encouraging. For example, both Telford and Stoke featured among the ten areas with the lowest business start-up rates, with Stoke also among those with the lowest ratios of businesses to population. Elsewhere, the city monitor noted that the Birmingham area had among the lowest employment rates in the country. Indeed, to emphasise the size of the challenge, to reach the UK average the Centre for Cities estimated nearly 125,000 more residents would need to find work.

The full report, Cities Outlook 2019, visit the Centre for Cities website (opens in a new window).

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