A study of 11 regional UK cities has revealed Greater Manchester has attracted the most foreign investment projects and has seen the highest GDP growth over the past 10 years.

OCO Global’s ‘Local Heroes’ report examined 37 data points covering economic, prosperity, wellbeing, property and educational trends over the past decade.

Research found Greater Manchester stood out  as one of the best cities for wellbeing, with the highest rates of improvement in healthy life expectancy and air quality. Despite the fastest GDP growth and the most Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) projects at 449 in the last decade, measures of the prosperity of residents lagged behind, with unemployment and wage rate growth ranking lower.

The 11 cities analysed were ranked as Top Tier (Edinburgh), Booming (Belfast, Manchester and Bristol), Solid Performers (Cardiff, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle) and Moderates (Birmingham, Sheffield and Nottingham).

The report found wide disparity in the amount of money each city received from Levelling Up, City Deals and Shared Prosperity funds. Of the £6 billion allocated from these sources, ‘Boomers’ such as Greater Manchester received on average £748 per head, compared to £420 for Solid Performers, and just £133 for Moderates.

The report concluded that although there was no one model for successful city growth, the best performing cities were those which combined high levels of funding with effective devolved powers.

Mark O’Connell, Executive Chairman of OCO Global, said:

“Levelling-up policies are meant to redress decades of structural imbalance between UK regions, but the study suggests that the way funding is allocated is actually helping exacerbate those inequalities.

“Funding tends to go to cities which are best at applying for it rather than those with the most need. It gives a further advantage to already booming cities which can demonstrate they are successful at spending funds.

“This centralised funding system isn’t giving enough consideration to unique local challenges, or the different areas different cities excel in. If we really want to unlock cities’ potential, we need to match political devolution with economic devolution and give elected mayors the authority and resources to make long-term plans to meet the needs of their economy and citizens. A good example of this is Manchester’s decision to successfully take the city’s transport system back into public hands.”  

The eleven cities chosen were a combination of regional capitals, city regions incorporating multiple local authorities working together and other key cities.

Mr O’Connell added:

“While there is undoubtedly a strong correlation between funding and success, cities also have their own agency. Although they need to ask why funding isn’t being distributed equally, cities with proactive policies to improve connectivity and wellbeing, enhance skills and inclusiveness in the workplace, and promote themselves as investor-friendly can succeed.

“All of the cities in the report grew, but they excelled in different areas. Consequently, there is no one-size-fits-all-strategy to deliver growth. Rather than wait for Westminster to provide a lead, city authorities need to identify their own regional strengths and weaknesses, ensure that elected mayors have more discretion to allocate money locally and develop bespoke growth strategies.”