British cities fall behind rivals on the Continent

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The Independent Online

Lack of innovation, inadequate transport links and a poor quality of life are stifling British cities and keeping them out of the premier league of European centres, according to a report.

Lack of innovation, inadequate transport links and a poor quality of life are stifling British cities and keeping them out of the premier league of European centres, according to a report.

In almost every aspect of economic performance, Manchester, Leeds or Nottingham lag behind equivalent cities such as Frankfurt, Lyon and Barcelona.

According to the report, European cities are more successful because they are given more autonomy by central government, are better connected both physically and electronically and are more bound into the "European project". The report for the Core Cities Group of the eight big English provincial cities, backed by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, will make sobering reading because of its implicit criticisms of Government policy on transport and the euro.

Greater investment in the regions is vital, it says, for the economic performance of the country as a whole.

The study compared the eight cities - Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leeds and Newcastle with leading European ones. Although it acknowledges that some cities, such as Birmingham and Leeds, have had an economic renaissance, the report says the big picture is clear: "Many lag behind their competitors in terms of GDP, innovation, education, connectivity, social cohesion, quality of life, political capacity and connections with their wider territories. Crucially, they lag in the eyes of international investors". In a table of 61 top cities in Europe rated in accordance to the number of euros per head, Bristol is the highest rated British provincial city with 29,437, behind Hanover, Vienna, Antwerp and Helsinki. Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool are in the bottom six. Frankfurt is top, with 74,465. The study also compared 50 cities and regions on innovation.

It shows that northern European cities - particularly German ones - perform better than southern European ones. Only London and the South-east make the top 10 and all the core cities except Bristol fall in the bottom 25. Many of the European cities succeeded because they had developed foreign policies and spent time and effort on international networking to raise their profiles.

They had also improved cultural facilities in order to improve their quality of life. The report concludes: "English cities do not punch their economic weight in a European context. They lag significantly behind many of their European counterparts.''

Professor Michael Parkinson, the principal author of the report and director of the European Institute for urban affairs at Liverpool John Moores University said that, of the factors influencing success, transport and innovation were the most crucial. "The two driving forces of the modern urban economy are airports and universities,'' he said.

He added: " When you ask the private sector in the north what is the single most important thing to assist their growth it is better transport, not skills shortages.''

Professor Parkinson said he believed the Government had taken the message on board. "Most of their energy has been on managing growth in the South-east and managing decline in the north. They now realise it is about managing growth in the north.'' The report will be welcomed by regional local authorities anxious for more money and devolved powers from the Government.

Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council said the research confirmed what many local authority leaders had been saying for years. "The core cities in the United Kingdom and their regions could be a real driving force for economy, but the relative competitiveness in mainland Europe is evidently higher."

A TALE OF TWO VERY DIFFERENT CITIES

MUNICH

Considered by many Britons as being the home of beer and lederhosen, Munich is the most prosperous city in Germany. Its economic strengthstems from traditional industries such as brewing, agriculture and car manufacture and modern sectors such as biotechnology. Munich is also the centre of German information technology expertise, and home to electronics giant Siemens. The city's 1.3 million population - including 270,000 non-Germans - enjoy arguably the best public transport system in Europe. Bus, cycle and tram routes complement a reliable underground system built for the 1972 Olympic Games. Travel times have been slashed since the introduction of the high-speed ICE trains and the city boasts one of the most sophisticated airports in Europe.

BIRMINGHAM

After suffering from the decline in car making and manufacturing in the Seventies and Eighties, Birmingham has been reinventing itself, led by a city authority with a tradition of enterprise dating back to the Victorian era. The centre has been largely rebuilt and has attracted upmarket stores such as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. It has promoted its exhibition and conference facilities, hosting the G8 summit in 1998. It is investing heavily in rail links and is expanding the airport but suffers from congestion on nearby motorways. The city of just under one million suffers from a service-based economy, lack of cultural sights and decent restaurants. It was criticised for its over-ambitious attempts to stage a Grand Prix and the Olympics.

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