A tale of two kinds of cities as UK's economic crisis widens wealth gap


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The Independent Online

The wealth gap between Britain's most prosperous and poorest cities is widening, as the economic crisis hits hardest in areas most dependent on public sector jobs, research reveals today.

Cities like Hull, Sunderland and Swansea are struggling to cope with widespread redundancies and seeing wages failing to keep pace with prices.

London, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Aberdeen are bucking the trend because of their high skill levels and large numbers of jobs in private companies.

The Centre for Cities think-tank report shows that although unemployment has risen in every major city in the UK, the rate at which dole queues are lengthening varies dramatically.

The Centre says the difference between unemployment in Hull and Cambridge has almost doubled since early 2008. And there are six times as many claimants in the most-deprived parts of Rochdale than in the poorest areas of Cambridge.

Its annual report into 64 major centres of population, Cities Outlook, says places with relatively few private sector jobs will find it harder to recover, citing Doncaster, Newport and Grimsby as facing a "challenging" future – particularly as austerity bites.

Cities with large numbers of workers in heavy industry – mainly in the Midlands and the North – are also finding it hard to ride out the economic storm.

The report reveals there is a broad North-South division in how successfully different cities are coping with the downturn. But the division is not clear cut, with Edinburgh, Aberdeen and York relatively resilient.

The report shows seven cities – six in the North of England and one in Scotland – Birkenhead, Burnley, Sunderland, Rochdale, Liverpool, Grimsby and Dundee – lost population in the last decade. The fastest-growing was Milton Keynes, whose population rose more than 15 per cent.

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities, pictured left, said: "The year ahead is going to be tough for all UK cities, but Cities Outlook 2012 shows that some are well-placed to kick-start economic growth. However, some have been hit particularly hard by recession and the gap between cities is widening."

She called on the Government to allow cities greater freedom from Whitehall, by giving them "the financial and political powers they need to make the right decisions for growth".

Ms Jones added that ministers should provide specially tailored help to those with particular problems, such as low skills levels.