Graduate Mobility and Closing the Productivity Gap for UK Cities

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There has been much discussion in recent years about the UK ‘productivity puzzle’: the shortfall in productivity between the UK and comparable EU states like Germany and France, with this gap widening in the last decade. One important perspective for understanding productivity relates to skills and education, and how well graduate skills are integrated with businesses and are helping to expand knowledge economy industries. This is where the UK has a distinct advantage due to the high number of world leading universities across the country. Yet this strong higher education base is not currently translating into sufficient numbers of productive graduate jobs in the UK.

The Foresight Government Office for Science has been investigating this topic, and recently published the Future of Cities: Graduate Mobility and Productivity report. I contributed to the report with data analysis on graduate flows from higher education institutions to workplaces using HESA data from 2013/2014.

There are several interesting aspects of the Foresight report. Firstly there is a strong city focus, which is vital when you see that productivity is highly city dependent, and has close links with regional patterns such as the north-south divide in the UK.

Productivity (Gross Value Added(GVA) per person employed) across British cities, 1981 and 2011 (Source Martin, Gardiner and Tyler 2014)
Productivity (Gross Value Added(GVA) per person employed) across British
cities, 1981 and 2011 (Source Martin, Gardiner and Tyler 2014)

The productivity gap at the city level is further linked to graduate flows. London dominates the UK as a graduate employer, both in absolute terms and in proportional flows from higher education institutions to workplaces. The scale of the labour market and graduate recruitment programs in London, as well as its reputation as an ‘escalator region’, all add to this huge reach.

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Data HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2013/2014

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That is not to say however that other large city-regions do not also have significant national graduate flows. Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester all draw significant numbers of graduates, with respective strengths in industries such as advanced manufacturing, creative industries and financial services (note HESA data is at county level, with Birmingham part of West Midlands and Leeds part of West Yorkshire). This is the foundation on which future growth will build.

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Data HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2013/2014
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Data HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2013/2014
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Data HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2013/2014

A second interesting aspect of the Foresight report is that it has been produced in collaboration with regional and local government agencies in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Cardiff. There are a number of initiatives in development to address key aspects of graduate employment, including:

• The Skills Engine being developed in Birmingham brings together a network of key players from the local area in order to improve the matching of demand for and supply of talent in the local economy.

• FASTTRACK is an initiative being tested by Leeds University to attract and assist graduate integration into small and medium-sized businesses in the region through placements and specially designed induction and training programmes.

• The Graduate Business Lounge builds on Bristol’s existing engagement in student enterprise to integrate existing graduate enterprise service providers and platforms to foster greater student entrepreneurship.

• New Economy Hubs in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester will take a multi-sector approach to understanding key economic growth areas at the city regional level.

• The GRAData Project, working with Leeds City Council and Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, aims to improve university and council use of national graduate data. The hope is that this will improve local careers support for students, and illuminate graduate mobility to enable the development of regional talent strategies.

These cities are well aware of the challenges in graduate skills and recruitment, and recent devolution processes are providing opportunities for improving graduate employment offers and addressing regional economy issues more generally. Data analysis and policy support are important is this role, with organisations set up such as New Economy Manchester and the University of Birmingham City REDI institute expanding.

For more details on the Foresight research, read the report here, and it is also worthwhile exploring the wider Foresight Future of Cities page.

 

 

London’s High Rise Debate

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Last week New London Architecture, centre for built-environment debate and communication, launched a new exhibition on London high rises and high buildings policy. As well as including many spectacular models of present and future buildings, the exhibition presents results from NLA research into London’s current generation of high building proposals.  The most eye-catching finding is that there are over 230 towers of 20 storeys or more proposed or under construction in London, potentially resulting in a dramatic change in London’s urban environment. A high profile campaign has been launched by the Guardian and Architects’ Journal calling for for more discussion and a ‘Skyline Commission’ to assess the impacts of these many developments. The NLA exhibition itself takes a more neutral tone in the debate, and highlights are summarised below.

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NLA “London’s Growing Up” Exhibition, with Leadenhall Building Model

It’s clear from the NLA map below that the majority of proposals are strongly clustered spatially, with many adjacent to existing high rise districts of Canary Wharf and in the City around Bishopsgate and Liverpool Street. There are however many new clusters set to be created, principally Vauxhall-Nine Elms; Waterloo; Blackfriars Bridge; City Road (Islington); Aldgate; Stratford and North Greenwich. Demand for high rises is a result of acute pressures for more housing, and the prioritising of development at public transport nodes, such as Canary Wharf, Vauxhall and Blackfriars. In heritage terms a number of these clusters are controversial, particularly those along the South Bank that affect London’s river views, and those proposals in the vicinity of the world heritage sites of Westminster and the Tower of London.

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NLA Insight Study map of current high building proposals

The main critique from campaigners is that there is a lack of vision from planners regarding high buildings policy, and that current developments are being driven by schemes for luxury residential flats along the river that maximise developer profits. The map above lends support to this view, particularly along the South Bank and at Vauxhall. There are already many medium rise luxury flat developments along the Thames of often limited design quality, and its debatable whether the current batch of taller developments will be any better. Policy restrictions in London are strongly geared towards protecting views of St Pauls Cathedral, effectively preventing new schemes in West Central London. Protection elsewhere is more limited and dependent on borough level interpretations of policy. Westminster has prioritised conservation and prevented new high rises (except at the Paddington Station development) while neighbouring boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark are more inclined to accept proposals, and use the much needed revenue for further housing development.

As well as covering the current planning debate, the exhibition includes many beautiful architectural models of existing and future high building proposals. There are some really unique designs, such as the fountain pen-shaped ‘Pinnacle’ that is back under development in the main City of London cluster.

Overall the exhibition is well worth a visit, and whether you are a fan or a critic of high buildings in London, there is clearly a need for greater awareness and discussion of current changes and what they will mean for the urban environment. There is also a need for more public access to open models and visualisations of how new buildings will appear and change London’s physical structure. Andy Hudson-Smith (@digitalurban) argued for this a few years back in CASA’s Virtual London project, and it appears that trends are currently moving in this direction.

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A Tale of Tech City: the future of Inner East London’s Digital Economy

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Earlier this month Demos published a fascinating report on the hot topic of London’s “Tech City” cluster, which has been promoted by the government as a key growth pole for the UK. The report authors Max Nathan, Emma Vandore and Rob Whitehead, put the Inner East London cluster in the context of similar phenomena in New York and Berlin; and get their hands dirty with some in-depth data analysis and face-to-face interviews of entrepreneurs. Policy recommendations are then made for the best way forward.

There have been some cool efforts at mapping the Silicon Roundabout Shoreditch/Old Street cluster from Wired UK, and from Tech City Map using social networking connections. A more traditional robust approach was taken in this report of using the various business survey datasets to measure firms and their activities. The scale of the cluster (defined more widely to include Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and Hoxton) was found to be larger than previously thought, at around 3,200 digital economy firms and 48,000 jobs, with these industries becoming increasingly important for the London economy.

I got involved with the project doing some density mapping of the core industries that make up the cluster: ICT firms and creative industry firms. The key message that comes from such mapping is that the cluster is embedded in a digital-creative corridor stretching from the West-End and Soho through Clerkenwell and on to Shoreditch.

From a spatial perspective, the cluster is about the Jane Jacobs type urban diversity fusion of IT and creative industries, very similar to Silicon Alley in NYC. High profile success stories like LastFM (music, digital broadcasting and social networking crossover) and Unruly Media (advertising, social network and analytics crossover) are prime examples of this integration. This tech-creative fusion clearly distinguishes the Inner London cluster from the IT software/hardware concentrations you get in Silicon Valley, or in the “Western Wedge” around Heathrow.

A high profile policy objective from the UK government has been to link the Inner East London cluster to future opportunities at the Olympic Park. The Demos report convincingly argues that the focus should rather be on the current cluster, enhancing funding opportunities, skills and growing new businesses. Moving to the Olympic Park is problematic in terms of it lacking the history, creativity and ‘vibe’ of the current cluster. The absence of creative and IT firms around Stratford is apparent in the above maps. Opportunities in the Olympic Park are more likely to suit larger established IT and engineering firms attracted to new high-spec offices.

That’s not to say the Olympic Park can’t have a role however. The firm interviews in the Demos report identified the lack of skilled workers being a big issue, at all levels including graduates:

There just aren’t enough computer scientists in the uk. And we need computer scientists, we don’t need – what do they call it – ICT trained people. We need real computer scientists who do software engineering and programming. No education coupled with visa restrictions is not a particularly good combination.

So apart from lifting the current counter-productive visa restrictions in the UK, there’s a clear role for universities in training more computer scientists with the right skills to succeed in these growing industries. This is what London universities are now in the process of doing at the Olympic Park, with new campuses planned and initiatives such as the UCL-Imperial smart cities institute in the pipeline. Your very own CASA is already involved in training graduates with smart cities skills. Smart Cities industries can themselves be viewed as a built environment-engineering-ICT fusion, likely complimentary to creative industry clusters.

 

 

Barratt Homes write National Planning Policy Framework

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The UK government is seeking to dramatically overhaul the English planning system, releasing the National Planning Policy Framework consultation in late July. This intends to streamline the system, reducing the array of previous planning policy frameworks into a single 50-page document. Various government ministers, including the chancellor, have been arguing this is a vital reform to ‘get Britain building’ and boost growth in a time of economic hardship.

As someone who cares deeply about the economic success and quality of life of the UK, reading this document was very alarming, as its vague pro-development language fails to get to grips with the economic and built environment challenges we face now and in the future.

The document states there should be a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” yet fails to define sustainability in any rigorous way (i.e. natural resources, energy, carbon emissions…), thus effectively making policy “a presumption in favour of development”. The previous requirement to prioritise developing brownfield land, a central policy in urban regeneration, is abandoned. The section on transport is weak, stating applications “should not be refused permission on transport grounds unless the residual impacts of development are severe”. There is no understanding of cities as the engine of the UK’s economic growth, nor of the regional relationships that are needed for urban economic competitiveness.

Unsurprisingly there has been a backlash by many organisations against the proposal. As well as rousing the green lobby and the National Trust in opposition, the policy has the unusual achievement of bringing together both The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph in condemning it. On the transport side, the RAC and Campaign for Better Transport (again two organisations often in opposition) come together to criticise the current document. I would urge anyone concerned with these issues to take part in the consultation, or sign the National Trust Petition.

There is undoubtedly a need in the UK for major housing expansion and for facilitating business growth through planning. This requires a coordinated approach to development focussed on cities, urban regeneration, boosting the knowledge economy, and taking into account the severe energy constraints and carbon reduction limitations we face in coming decades (i.e. we need highly energy efficient homes and a decent life without mass car ownership). This document doesn’t even get close, and policy makers need to go back to the drawing board for a more progressive vision.