The best British cities for talent

Investing businesses place a high premium on the depth, availability and relative cost of highly skilled labour.

by Management Today
Last Updated: 26 Jun 2019

When considering a new location for your business, domestically or internationally, talent is top of the list. They say data is the oil of the 21st century knowledge economy, but really it's brainpower. You can have the best business model, proposition and strategy in the world, but without top notch people, with refined technical and business skills, you'll stall.

As part of Management Today's 21 Best Towns and Cities in Britain for Business, we gathered metrics that reflect the level of talent in different urban areas.

To get a sense of the depth of the talent pool, we looked at the proportion of the population with degree level education. For the cost of talent, we looked at both average weekly earnings (for baseline labour costs) and the housing affordability ratio (which can be used as a proxy for the relative cost of labour - the same person doing the same job will need a bigger salary to live in Cambridge than in Newcastle). 

Finally, we looked at the proportion of employers with hard to fill vacancies, as a measure of the availability of talent. 

It's important to look at these holistically, which is why Best Cities is a ranking decided by a panel of judges, not an index. A low average level of education in a large city could mask a substantial population of highly educated people among a much larger uneducated population for example, while employers struggling with hard to fill vacancies could reflect rapid local growth, which is surely a good thing. 

When taken together, however - and in combination with other metrics on scale, innovation and dynamism (published online tomorrow) - we believe they form a valuable resource. 

A note on methodology

We collected data* on the UK’s 63 primary urban areas (minus London), as defined by the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies at the University of Newcastle. Incomplete data meant that Belfast and Luton were also excluded.

Eight metrics were used to determine inclusion in the shortlist, each representing a different measure of the sophistication of a city’s business ecosystem: patent applications per 100,000 people (a measure of innovation), GVA per worker (a measure of productivity), the share of working age population with an NVQ4 qualification of higher (a measure of the talent pool), business stock per 100,000 people (a measure of dynamism), working age population (a measure of scale) and private sector jobs growth, business stock growth and the number of employees in high growth businesses** (measures of momentum).

Each city was given a rank for each metric. The ranks were then summed, with working age population given a triple weighting to account for the high proportion of per capita metrics used, and the 21 cities with the lowest scores included in the shortlist.

Recognising that statistics do not tell the whole tale, we invited these towns and cities to tell us why they should win, and assembled a panel of judges to make the final decision: David Landsman, former executive director of Tata Europe; Anne O’Donnell, CEO of Procorre; Simon Rogerson, CEO and founder of Octopus Group; Tim Lloyd, MD of AML Group; Jim Hubbard, head of regional policy at the CBI; Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at the Centre for Cities; and Adam Gale, editor of Management Today

*All data is from the Centre for Cities unless otherwise noted.

Image credit: Pixabay/Pexels


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