There are huge divides between our towns, cities and regionsby Ian Warren / July 8, 2019 / Leave a comment
Oldham’s story is not unique. At the Centre For Towns, we see huge disparities between towns and cities, some of which are captured in the numbers shown. Oldham’s story is utterly different to a leafy Mancunian suburb like Altrincham just 10 miles away, but equally different to the city of Manchester’s own recent history. Similar gaps are repeated within regions, just as much as between them, across the length and breadth of the UK.
The truth is that, while the north-south divide is certainly important, it is a pretty crude way of looking at the British map of opportunity and deprivation.
Towns like Oldham have seen industrial decline and many of the old jobs go, but without the subsequent changes in employment patterns which our cities eventually benefitted from. Our towns have struggled to adapt to the new economy. They have, for one thing, only low proportions of citizens with advanced qualifications. And lacking the benefits of agglomeration which apply in a big city such as Manchester, Oldham has, like many other post-industrial towns, fewer of the jobs that young people yearn for.
Little surprise that many see their future away from Oldham. Our towns are aging rapidly, meaning they have fewer people of working-age with the income to sustain a thriving high street. Older people in towns like Oldham have less disposable income and little of the equity tied up in bricks and mortar that we see—for example—in Altrincham down the road. Banks, post offices and major retailers make market decisions to remove themselves from such places, further eroding their vitality.
It is not only a spirit of optimism, but also pro-active public policy that will be required to arrest the spiral.
This article features in “All about towns,” Prospect’s new report in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation