Study finds northern cities struggling


City leaders in northern cities and towns have been urged to create opportunities for people and places that have been left behind in the Government’s Northern Powerhouse strategy. The call comes as a new Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report reveals 10 of the UK’s top 12 struggling cities are based in the north.

The ‘Uneven growth: tackling city decline’ study examined the fortunes of 74 cities with populations of over 100,000 people and looked at changes in employment rates, levels of highly qualified workers, the numbers of full-time jobs, net migration rates population change and change in rank.

The research showed that while some were growing, many northern cities were lagging significantly behind national levels.


The study found that three of the top 12 struggling places (Rochdale, Bolton and Wigan) are located in Greater Manchester where substantial powers and resources have been devolved.  It also found that some of the poorest places in the country risk being left behind despite recent  attempts to boost economic growth and create prosperity in the north.

The top five struggling cities were found to be:

  • Rochdale

  • Burnley

  • Bolton

  • Blackburn

  • Hull

With the Government’s Northern Powerhouse strategy and devolution agenda focused on the cities such as Greater Manchester and Sheffield, the study calls for wider prosperity and rebalancing – areas outside of these cities must also share in the benefits of investment and devolution.  

Cities in the south were found to have much stronger growth in full-time employment, benefiting places such as Exeter and Milton Keynes while Burnley and Stoke have struggled. Full-time job creation fell back 2.1% compared to growth of 1.9% for the national average and 5.4% in the top 12 best performing cities.  

The report suggests that economic growth alone will not necessarily reduce poverty in cities, so comprehensive and integrated packages of long-term policies around economic development, employment and skills as well as infrastructure are required.

Areas outside core cities must not be left behind

Josh Stott, Policy and Research Manager at JRF said: “Britain has the potential to become a more prosperous country, with George Osbourne’s Northern Powerhouse playing a key role in rebalancing the economy.

“But it must reach all parts of the north to ensure prosperity is shared. To rebalance the economy and ensure local growth provides opportunity for all households, the Treasury needs to ensure areas outside of Core Cities are not left behind. City leaders – with a new suite of powers at their disposal – must also show leadership to do their part to ensure growth and prosperity is shared by all.”

440,000 jobs created since 2010

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ project had already helped give jobs to more than 440,000 people since 2010. He added that:

“So far we have secured a host of devolution deals, and invested in transport, science and the arts across the region, backed by more than £4 billion of new funding from central Government. We want to harness the North's massive potential to drive the UK's economy, and its prospects make it a lucrative place to invest and live.”

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Source: JRF press release: 10 of the top 12 struggling cities are in the Northern Powerhouse