A new study shows that automation will hit the North and Midlands the hardest. If we don't act now, England's economy will become even more unevenby Andrew Carter / January 29, 2018 / Leave a comment
In November last year, the Chancellor Phil Hammond was the subject of much derision when he claimed that “there are no unemployed people in Britain.” That gaffe meant that nobody paid any attention to his preceding comments—a shame, as they were perceptive on the big changes set to revolutionise jobs in Britain over coming decades.
Hammond spoke of the need to embrace automation and technology, noting that twenty years ago there was great concern about the future of short-hand typists and similar occupations, but that these jobs have been largely offset by the rise of new roles.
His point is that automation and globalisation are nothing new—they are continuations of trends which have caused political upheavals since the Luddite protests of the 19th century.
This history is traced in a new Centre for Cities report, which looks at how British cities have responded to the disruptions brought by automation and other changes in the past century—and the implications this has for their future prospects.
The report shows that 100 years ago, British cities were heavily exposed to job losses from automation and globalisation, as they are now. Back then, it was occupations such as laundry workers, streetlamp lighters and domestic servants which were at risk, and which have all-but-disappeared as a result.
Yet these jobs were more than offset by new roles in emerging industries such as ICT and marketing which helped to ensure that the overall number of jobs in British cities rose by 60 per cent between 1911-2016.
A deepening North/South divide
This would suggest that the Chancellor is right to be optimistic about Britain’s prospects of adapting to the changing world of work.
But here’s the rub—while most cities have seen jobs growth over the last century, there have been stark differences in the types of jobs that have been created in different places. In broad terms, cities in the South have been successful in attracting new jobs in high-skilled, high-paying sectors – and have therefore adapted well to technological changes
In contrast, places in the North and Midlands, which were badly hit by the impact of automation and globalisation on manufacturing and other traditional industries in the 1970s and 1980s, have largely replaced these jobs with routinized roles in call centres, retail and warehouses.
These patterns have…