We published our annual report today, Cities Outlook 2008 - and got loads of coverage, like this in The Guardian and BBC Online. I was also on News 24 and Channel 4 News, and we seemed to do every local radio station this morning...
Cities Outlook includes the latest on how UK cities are performing - on employment, earnings and population growth. It shows that the North-South is still around, because cities like Milton Keynes, Reading and Aldershot are well ahead. But the North-South divide isn't that simple, for two reasons.
First, some Northern cities are catching up on things like employment growth. Five of the top ten cities, based on jobs growth, are in the North - Sunderland, Sheffield, Derby, Doncaster and Warrington. Cities that were almost written off 10 years ago. But there's a catch - overall, employment rates in most of these cities are still below the national average. Worklessness - around 26% nationally - is 31% in Sunderland and Sheffield. That's why the Government is renewing its efforts to tackle the persistently high numbers of adults not in employment. And about time, too.
Second, our biggest cities - whether they are up North or down South - all have deep inequalities within them. Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham have all got great new city centres - but less than a mile away, too many of their residents are not benefiting fully from that success. It's time to focus less on shiny new buildings, and more on the difficult long-term issues facing our cities - like transport, housing and jobs.
"Cities Outlook" points the way forward, highlighting the need for cities to take on more new financial powers - so they can address their own particular problems. It also warns about the potential headwinds facing UK cities - after a decade of stable and strong growth, they now face a combination of difficulties including tighter public spending, slower national growth and an uncertain housing market.
So, it is less grim up North - but, as the FT said today, it's still pretty grim in quite a few places immediately outside our regenerated city centres. We can all count the cranes on the skylines of Liverpool - and that's great - but cities like that need more than new buildings, they need a better-skilled workforce as well. That will help more people benefit from the improvements in those city centres.