Monday 5 April 2004

Our poor cities

I found this chart on the web the other day. It shows the per capita GDP of Europe's 61 richest cities as calculated in 2001. The figures are truly extraordinary. Frankfurt is the wealthiest European city, with a GDP of €74,465 per person. After a whole batch of German and other cities we get to Britain's richest city, which is London with an average GDP of €35,072. Edinburgh is just behind London at €35,018. Surprisingly Glasgow comes in at €31,893, well above places like Birmingham (€22,069), Manchester (€22,099) and Liverpool (€16,466).

Just what's going on here? John Moores University states that:

It is concerned that English provincial cities: are not punching their weight economically in the national context; are falling behind London; lack the right mix of responsibilities and resources to improve their performance; are not as competitive, or do not make as great contribution to the national economic welfare, as comparable cities in continental Europe.
Many European cities have powerful elected mayors who give clear leadership to economic development. Many successful cities have been deeply involved in European systems and networks, which has encouraged them to be internationalist, expansionist and entrepreneurial... The more centralised governmental, institutional and financial system must be one dimension of the underperformance of English cities. The policy implication is not a short term one. But it is clear. Letting go achieves more.
I agree. There can be no doubt that Scotland's separate civil society benefits both Edinburgh and Glasgow. The UK is by far the most centralised of all the large Western economies and that is clearly damaging for the big English provincial cities. Regional assemblies are understandably anathema to British libertarians. That's to be expected given their connection with the EU. Nevertheless some way needs to be found to reduce London's unhealthy dominance over the country. We should of course start by moving the capital to Glasgow.