London of course is the dominant city in the UK and, in terms of European cities, it only has Paris as a peer (the full map of EU cities is available by following the link in the figure caption). One can of course present many tables and statistics, but Fig 1 is quite nice in that the area of each city is the population and the height GDP per capita; hence the volume of each block is the total economic power of each city. What is obvious from Fig. 1, apart from the total domination of London, is that whilst Birmingham and Manchester rival each other as the second city in the UK (with Manchester a bit ahead), in terms of these islands Dublin is easily the 2nd city economically. Dublin of course has the advantage of being a capital city, but as discussed here in 1922 when Ireland became independent it was not even in the top ten (and even 2nd to Belfast on the island of Ireland). Indeed it did not enter the top 10 till the 1980s.
On leaving Dublin in 1981 for Britain, I have lived in Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle and my impressions then were that they were similar if not ahead of Dublin. When I return, now 36 years later, (a few times a year), there is an economic vibrancy lacking in the UK apart from London and maybe the SE. It is not just statistics; Dublin feels in a different class.
Whereas it might be argued that the Dublin economy has done particularly well over the last 40 years, so indeed has London. Another successful city has been Portsmouth (more correctly the Portsmouth/Southampton or South Hampshire Metropolitan area), which is the only metropolitan area of sufficient population to make the cut in the South East of England. Indeed many people are surprised that Portsmouth/Southampton is now one of the major metropolitan areas in the UK.
For those who would argue that the Irish economy has been particularly well run over the entire past 40 years I would recommend Fintan O’Toole’s Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger and also to reflect on the fact that the 2008 financial crisis brought the Irish economy and political system to the brink of catastrophic collapse. On the flip side of the Irish economy has been much better run than the UK since 2010. Even so the question that needs to be asked is: Why have all the UK cities outside London and the South East done so comparatively poorly compared to Dublin over the past 40 years?
In the UK Northern cities there has been a persistent belief that the UK Government (particularly under the Torys) is only interested in London and the South East and just as with “trickle-down economics” (which increases inequality); government policies suck talented people and economic activity towards London and the SE to the detriment of the rest of the UK. Some go so far as to argue that in the absence of Colonies that the rUK is essentially being treated as a colony by London and the SE.
In the case of Scotland my perception until comparatively recently is that Dublin, Glasgow and Edinburgh were of a par and yet currently Greater Dublin has moved so far ahead economically that it is easily more powerful than than the combined cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and possibly even the entire ‘Central Belt’ of Scotland. Indeed Fig 1 begs the question that if the result Scottish devolution referendum of 1979 had not been ignored by the UK government could the next 38 years have played out differently?
Of course the fact that there is an economic imbalance between London and the SE and the rUK has been recognised for many years. Some comparatively recent measures are George Osbourne’s Northern Powerhouse initiative and Theresa May’s Modern Industrial Strategy fit for Global Britain which will apparently: “drive growth across the whole country and create more high skilled, high paid jobs and opportunities as part of government’s Plan for Britain.” Economically however these initiative are like putting a sticking plaster on a major wound and are one, if not two, orders of magnitude too small to make a significant difference.
Gardiner et al (2013) explored Spatially unbalanced growth in the British economy using the Cambridge Econometric Database and Figure 2 is illustrative of just how far the ‘North’ has fallen behind the ‘South’. Of course this graph is now well out of date and it would be interesting to see more up to date figures covering the years of austerity from 2010 to the present time. Certainly the perception is that the gap has widened further.
The ONS GVA dataset (Income Approach) is however open source and data from the years 1997 to 2015 for London, the South East and the rUK (average of all the other regions and nations) have been used to create Fig. 3. It is clear that the regional disparity is becoming greater, particularly for London. The difference is stark with the average income in 2015 being £44k in London, £28k in the SE and £21k for the rUK. The difference between London and the rUK is over a factor of two or about the difference between Germany (one of the richest countries in Europe) and Turkey (one of the poorest)!
This is a national scandal. Possibly it is not deliberate, but clearly there is a lack of will by successive Governments to tackle this issue. The fact that the income differential is now so high, means it is a draw for the most able and talented young adults to move from other parts of the UK to London, reinforcing what in Control Engineering terms is positive feedback. Without dramatic measures this disparity will only get worse. The Government response amounts to window dressing. The worry is that because the draw to London is so strong it is metaphorically sucking the life blood from the rest of the UK.