South West forecast to recover quickly from pandemic slump, report finds

By Nick Batten on 24 March, 2022

The South West’s economy is expected to grow faster in 2022 than in any other region in the UK as it rebounds from the effects of the pandemic, according to the recently published Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index.

The report estimates that the region’s gross value added (GVA) – a measure of economic output – grew by 8.2% in 2021 and will grow another 6.1% in 2022. In addition, the overall index ranking placed Swindon in third place, just behind Oxford and Bournemouth.

The Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index ranks 50 of the UK’s largest cities (generally considered those with populations of at least 350,000 people), plus the London boroughs as a whole, based on people’s assessment of 12 key economic wellbeing factors, including jobs, health, income and skills, as well as work-life balance, house affordability, travel-to-work times, income equality, environment and business start-ups.

The report says that provincial cities are expected to show stronger economic growth than those that are larger and more metropolitan. It emphasised that the West’s strong recovery is, in part, driven by the movement of city dwellers to commuter belts or rural areas amid a growing focus on wellbeing, the environment and income distribution. Many of the cities with smaller populations have experienced – and are expected to continue to see – stronger GVA growth rates than larger metropolitan cities. 

Cities in the South West performed well in the index’s overall ranking, all comfortably within the top half of the 50 cities profiled.

Ben Pykett, Director in PwC’s West practice, said, “These findings confirm the resilience of our cities; we have recovered more quickly than anywhere else in the UK as we enter the post-pandemic economy. Combine that with the success of our cities against other metrics such as safety, health, wealth equality and work-life balance, and the West is well-placed to continue delivering sustainable growth. 

“The pandemic changed the way we live and work. Some of the West’s success since the pandemic is due to its ability to attract workers who work flexibly or remotely, and who previously would have had to live close to London or another major urban centre.”

Karen Finlayson, Regional Lead for Government and Health Industries at PwC, said, “Once again, Southern cities dominate this year’s Good Growth Index. It’s clear that regional inequality remains a very clear reality that can’t be ignored. The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper was a welcome acknowledgment of what is a long-term and incredibly complex problem. Every individual city will face its own unique set of challenges and priorities that will need to be addressed through innovative, imaginative and tailored solutions. The provincial cities that are currently performing strongly will now have a different set of needs than larger metropolitan cities, some of which have experienced a period of poor growth.”

Justin Martin, Devolved and Local Government Lead for PwC, added, “We’re emerging from the pandemic with a new set of priorities, largely focused around fairness, the environment and work-life balance. It’s likely that the way we have lived over the past two years has led to people reflecting on what they value the most. This appears to be having a significant impact on the fortunes of different places, with the cities that perform well not only having strong local authorities but also being characterised by strong environmental and safety credentials.”