UK: UK Cities – It's A Three Horse Race But What About The Best Of The Rest?

Last Updated: 31 March 2017
Article by Simon Bedford

Most Read Contributor in UK, March 2017

Having just taken over as the leader of Deloitte's UK Local Public sector business MIPIM 2017 presented a golden opportunity to undertake a serious city health check. Deloitte employ around 6000 people across our 17 UK offices outside London and we have ambitions to grow this figure at least another 2000 by 2020. Clearly each of the Cities exhibiting at MIPIM this week have been keen to establish their credentials in the uber competitive inward investment market – so had did they fair?

Well the first thing to say, and it won't be universally popular is there is a front running group of cities – Manchester and Birmingham with Leeds hanging on to their coat tails. Manchester delivered a packed and varied programme and managed to attract a number of other Champion's League cities to join them at various events. I was particularly impressed with features on culture and housing – where the events provoked genuine debate and drew big crowds.

Birmingham was riding high after a stellar investment year. With HS2 now safely ensconced at Snow Hill where their staff numbers are approaching 1000 this was the big story. The acceleration in infrastructure investment underpinned by HS2 is going to provide a strong magnet over the next few years. The stats are likely to keep getting better for Birmingham. MIPIM 2017 proved that is going to be the one to watch.

Leeds came to MIPIM basking in the glory of opening both Trinity and Victoria Gate in the last three years, some achievement. Leeds is now a premier league retail destination. The city is now girding its loins for the next big push. They are going to go hard for Capital of Culture in 2023 and base lot of their investment programme around it. Other ides trailed during the week included an innovation district around the Universities and hospital – this looked interesting and given the location should go well. From a personal perspective having Yorkshire and England cricketer along to help was a big plus – who needs football or rugby when you have cricket?

So that's the big three – we have around 2000 staff across those three cities – what about the rest?

Well there were a number of themes this year that helped to define propositions being brought forward. Theme one was definitely a powerhouse and /or engine.

So with regard to power or engine room what did we learn?

First, to Sheffield and the advanced manufacturing innovation district – the interesting thing about this project is the scale and location, it's not in town like the Liverpool and Newcastle versions, it is spread over a 2000 acre site area to the south east of the City Centre. The target market is also a little different being ground out of the major manufacturing sector, this could be the darling of the Government's industrial strategy.

Newcastle is bringing science to the fore with Science Central, a well - conceived and now institutionally funded science and tech hub in the city centre. Funnily enough Liverpool showcased its knowledge quarter this year – three cities with science and tech at the core of their plans, all being taken forward on a slightly different proposition.

Theme two was about devolution and / or autonomy.

A quick stop in Cardiff revealed the hugely impressive Capital Quarter. This is real place making, anchored by a new BBC Wales building, Capital Quarter will stitch together the retail to the station and the stadiums – it will do it well.

Wandering further north we had both Edinburgh and Glasgow – first thing they are busy with is improving connectivity between the two Scottish giants with £1bn set aside for the rail improvements programme. The Edinburgh Bio Quarter is a seriously impressive £850m project that has brought together the Universities, hospitals etc – perhaps the most advanced of any similar projects across the UK cities network - although Liverpool and Manchester might argue with that assessment. Glasgow has a big city deal to celebrate – emphasis was on infrastructure and Clyde Gateway.

Rounding off the 'devolved' cities there was of course Belfast. The sales pitch was slanted towards tourism and leisure – they have won a host of awards in recent times in their hospitality sector. Flagship events around Game of Thrones and the growth of the film industry and Ireland 2023 Rugby World Cup reinforced the drive, lots to look forward to.

So what did I learn on this year's whistle stop tour around MIPIM that will help thinking through that cities programme?

The big themes haven't changed dramatically – but each of the cities is defining more carefully its proposition – and by and large in a crowded market doing it very well.

I couldn't help thinking however on departure that there was an elephant in the room – and that would be Dublin of course. Never known for big MIPIM splash Dublin has fully recovered from the celtic crash and is now firing on all cylinders. It is already home to Google, Facebook and a host of other tech giants. If the rumours get confirmed JP Morgan and others in the city could follow. So is Dublin absolutely the city to watch in 2017 – I suspect so – another Guinness anyone?

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