Exeter Continues To Weather The Storm Of Austerity
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Photography by Sofy Robertson
Before Brexit hit the fan, austerity had been the most politically contentious issue of recent times. With nearly a decade of austerity behind us, the Cities Outlook 2019 Report, published by the Centre for Cities, examined the impact of austerity and how individual cities’ spending power had changed.
The report acts as a ‘check-up’ for the 63 largest cities in the UK. It showed that Northern Cities had been hit especially hard by austerity and Exeter was the second hardest hit city in the South West. Our city has had a 17% reduction in funding since 2009/10 which equates to a £383 reduction per person in Exeter in the last ten years.
Despite being the second hardest hit in our region, Exeter seems to have battled the storm of austerity and come out the other side stronger.
Exeter is the only city in the UK where the number of business closures fell last year. Other cities across the country have seen High Street shops and businesses closing down in droves, but Exeter is the only city that goes against that trend with a 2% fall in closures, not to mention that it was named in the top ten healthiest High Streets in the UK last year.
In isolation, this statistic may seem little to shout about, but in comparison with other UK cities the result comes into sharper focus. London saw a colossal 94.9% increase in business closures and Northampton (72.7%) and Aberdeen (71.7%) were also badly affected.
Cllr Rachel Sutton, Lead Councillor for Economy and Culture commented:
“This is really positive news for Exeter. Unlike other cities who are struggling, Exeter remains a strong centre for business and a vibrant retail destination. Footfall in the city centre continues to be high and clearly businesses in Exeter are doing alright during tough times.” (Exeter City Council)
Over half of the cities examined in the report saw their employment rate improve in 2018. Exeter ranked at number seven in the top ten cities with the highest employment rate with a percentage point change of 9.6.
Closely tied in with this increase in employment, Exeter is the third lowest city for job seekers allowance claimant count.
These statistics may be tied in with the skillset of the workforce in Exeter. The report also examined the skills of the populous of each city, determining it as a key component of the success of a city’s economy. Exeter ranked at number five in the top ten cities with highest percentage of high qualifications (51.3%).
Population growth in a city could be considered a negative factor, but the report states that:
“Growing populations can give an indication of the economic opportunities that are available in cities. Cities that provide more job and career opportunities are likely to attract and retain more people than cities that do not.”
With this in mind, Exeter’s ranking as number six in the top ten fastest growing cities by population demonstrates the pull that the city has in terms of its career opportunities.
In terms of house price growth, Exeter reached number nine with an annual growth of 5% between 2017-2018. However, it was also the sixth least affordable city in the country according to the housing affordability ratio, calculated by comparing the average house price with the average annual wage in the city.
Another major finding from the report concerns Exeter’s outlook as a green city. It was one of only four cities in the UK that reduced its emissions per capita by more than 10%. Overall, Exeter gained eighth place in the ranking for top ten cities with the lowest emissions per capita.
Despite being the second hardest city in the South West to be hit by austerity, the report highlights a great number of strengths in the city.
Cllr Sutton acknowledged the hardships that Exeter has endured over the years of austerity, saying:
“In Exeter we’ve been no different to other cities – we’ve had to adapt to massive cuts in government funding. We are far from out of the woods and having to make some difficult decisions now and for a number of years to come.”
There is no doubt that austerity has left a significant mark on our city, as with many others in the UK, but the strength of its businesses and of its people have shone through in this report, providing hope that Exeter will continue to weather the unknown storms of the future.