All cities are suffering in the present recession. But some are suffering more than others. A new report by the Centre for Cities think tank points to a widening economic gap between different urban conurbations around the country.
Population centres including Hull, Barnsley, Stoke-on-Trent, Burnley, Newport and Doncaster have seen a drastic jump in unemployment and a deep decline in business activity. Yet other places, among them, Brighton, Milton Keynes, Reading, Cambridge and Edinburgh have weathered the downturn significantly better and seems well placed to benefit from an economic recovery.
What this research emphasises is a trend of uneven economic development in Britain that was discernible long before this savage recession struck. Those cities hit hardest were already suffering before the downturn took hold. They had shed private sector jobs through the years of strong growth, relying disproportionately on the public sector for employment. And they have long registered a low rate of business start-ups.
The report makes it clear what the conditions are for a vibrant city economy: decent public transport links, a strong private sector business base and a well-educated workforce. It is the responsibility of any government which takes inequality, poverty and equality of opportunity seriously to learn these lessons.
Priorities are sustained investment in education and funding to modernise public transport links. And greater incentives need to be put in place for businesses to invest and establish themselves outside the already overdeveloped and prosperous South East.
The Government is behaving responsibly by providing training and work placements for the hundreds of thousands of young people who are presently unable to get into the labour market. Ministers are also sensible to delay cuts to public spending before the economy (in particular depressed northern cities) can absorb the necessary pain.
But what is needed beyond these crisis measures is a serious strategy to correct Britain's uneven pattern of regional economic development. Without such a strategy there is no end in sight for this painful tale of two types of British city.