Preston’s regularly making the headlines for its economic model and surging its way up the best places to live.Advertisement
But what are the figures underlying this change in fortunes for the city?
Think-tank Centre for Cities has offered some insights into why they think Preston is seeing a mini-renaissance.
Chief executive Andrew Carter gave a presentation to around 50 business and civic leaders in the city as part of the Preston Partnership.
During it he outlined how high educational achievement, strong transport links and lumping together Preston, South Ribble and Chorley was creating a ‘city region’ that was beginning to punch above its weight.
Preston, like many other places, has seen the number of people working in manufacturing collapse since the 1970s, with around 10,000 people now working in the sector – compared to nearly 60,000 in 1951.
Mr Carter pointed out the city is heavily reliant on public-sector jobs and also has a huge number of ‘low value service’ jobs – such as shop or bar work.
But employment is a good story for the city, with 83 per cent of the city in some sort of employment – the highest in the North West and the third in the UK. Only Worthing and Southend are higher. Blackburn for example has an employment rate of 64 per cent.
A key part of The Preston Model – the much praised Preston Labour initiative – is trying to distribute spend within the city’s economy from large institutions like the university, county council and others. This could be pushing up productivity in the city and wider area.
Mr Carter points to how the city is a productive place, with an increasing amount of wealth per person – £52,400 is the average productivity and this gap to the national average has closed in the last 12 months by £5,000. The city ha higher productivity than Manchester or Liverpool.
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Average weekly workplace wages are £504, lower than Liverpool or Manchester, but higher than Burnley, Blackpool or Blackburn, leading to the city seeing strong commuting patterns into it for work.
Focusing on Preston city centre and Mr Carter says all the signs point to how the lack of top-quality office space is holding back the city.
He said: “A lot of places think that the high street is going to save them. It isn’t.
“If you look at successful places they have been reducing the amount of high street and investing in other uses.
“A smaller but more robust high street, supported by office and residential use is a way we’re seeing cities become more productive.
“Warrington is a good case in point.”
Mr Carter did say the city centre was faring better than places such as Blackpool, Burnley and Wigan.
Returning to office space, Preston has more empty shops than the UK average and has a huge gap to the national average in terms of the quality office space.
Mr Carter said: “Without this top quality office space you can’t attract high quality firms, and the jobs those bring.
“They are after skilled labour, and the education figures suggest the city has this, but you’re competing with other city centres.
“It’s not a competition with the suburbs. Those top-end firms will look at Preston, versus Derby, versus Huddersfield. So if you lose them it’s not like they stay within the area, they are gone and you won’t get them back.”
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Education in Preston shows the city has strong schools.
Early years education is just below the national average but when it comes to schools and exam results the city is in the UK’s top 10 and well ahead of the national average.
Preston people also like to invest in themselves, with a real surge in adult education in the last four years. The city is the fourth best in the UK for people taking on further study.
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