The UK has always been a country of great change. As a nation, Britons have constantly adapted to change throughout the years, with cities and cultures being shaped and moulded into what they are today. We have always been able to embrace change, although some are often a little less reactive to it, and we have certainly reaped the benefits of doing so.

You only need to look at the UK’s many amazing cities to see this in action. Our small island is home to some of the most amazing cities in the world, where you can see growth and change in the very architecture and the shape of the streets. There are some fantastic examples of cities that have expanded beyond their initial limits in this country, and many more are continuing to surprise people every day.

And now, when economic growth is in the throes of its most trying time, cities throughout the country need to learn how to make the changes they need to become big, booming powerhouses. Not only is this good for its inhabitants, but it’s also good for the country as a whole. A city that can grow to become a hub of activity for businesses and individuals alike is one that can better the UK in general.

Knocking London off its top-spot

Many people think of London as the only major city within the UK. Of course, it’s this country’s capital city and is the main city to which tourists and business people alike flock every year, but it isn’t the only one that dominates. There are many others that could one day be crowned king, and yet more that are certainly making headway as we speak.

While the other UK cities may not have the same wealth that London has, they do have an amount of prowess in other areas that is allowing them to catch up with our capital.

However, London is not an accurate depiction of a UK city, in reality. Take it’s housing market, for example – in London, it’s worth a shocking £2trillion, while house prices throughout the rest of the country have taken a nosedive in recent months. This shows just how much London is living in its own little bubble – it’s running along at its own speed, but other cities can and will catch up to it with the right combination of foresight and economics.

Manchester – the jewel of the North West

Manchester is without a doubt the North West’s worst-kept secret. Everyone can see, even those that aren’t looking too closely, how far this city has come in just the last few years. It has a booming business industry, along with an amazing retail presence and an eclectic culture that really sets it apart from its would-be competitors. It also has students coming from far and wide to study at its universities, with more than 85,000 students enrolled at its four universities, which include the University of Manchester, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Salford.

The city was ranked as the most vibrant urban area outside of London in Experian’s report from 2011. It managed to jump 20 places to the top-spot in just 10 years, showing precisely how far it has come. But what has made this change possible?

There are many factors to Manchester’s excellent growth in recent years – despite the recession – including its skilled workforce, educational facilities and investment in transport infrastructure.

Let’s look at these three factors in greater detail to understand how – and why – they are working for Manchester.

Skilled Workforce

Many sectors within Manchester have seen impressive expansion in the last decade, including the following:

  • Financial and professional services (16.6% expansion)

  • Manufacturing and engineering (16.1% expansion)

  • Health (13.0% expansion)

  • Retail (10.3% expansion)

  • Education (8.5% expansion)

  • Creative and digital (7.7% expansion)

These statistics, based on research conducted in 2010, show that each of these sectors require the use of a skilled, efficient workforce. This is provided through Manchester’s excellent educational facilities, as well as the rest of the UK’s (as not all Manchester graduates go on to live and work within the city).

The average salary of a Manchester worker is £27,093, which puts employees above the national average of £25,355 for full-time employment. However, there is still a pay-gap for men and women, with men earning an average yearly salary of £31,881 and women earning £24,591.

However, there’s good news for employers as, in Salford, where one of Manchester’s major business districts resides – Spinningfields – employees are very competitively priced. The average weekly wage for someone working in Spinningfields is £461.70 (which works out as £24,000 per annum), which means employers can get skilled workers without having to break the bank, which is what all companies need to account for at the end of the day.

Educational Facilities

Manchester is well-known for being a hub for activity in terms of education, as the University of Manchester has an excellent ranking within the University league table for 2014:

  • Entry standards – 453

  • Student satisfaction – 3.98

  • Research assessment – 2.82

  • Graduate prospects – 72.0

The most impressive statistic from this list is without a doubt the graduate prospects for students, as this puts Manchester University in the 25th position. This makes this university the highest-ranking educational facility from the North West on the league table in terms of graduate prospects, and the city’s excellent increase in sector expansion will certainly have something to do with this.

Many graduates from Manchester universities walk straight into well-paying jobs, thereby bypassing the difficult stage of life that the majority of people have had to go through before them; of being stuck in a catch-22 of paying for bills while still leaving enough money to buy food.

Of those graduating from the University of Manchester in 2009/2010, 73 per cent walked straight into graduate positions within their chosen industry. Of these graduates, their average yearly salary was £21,000. However, in this same year, eleven of the university’s graduates earned themselves six-figure salaries thanks to the amazing degrees they had managed to acquire. The number of University of Manchester graduates that are unemployed also dropped in this year, going from eight per cent to 6.6 per cent.

Graduates from Manchester universities are hugely employable, thanks to the massive amount of research and investment that is going into our educational facilities.

Again, looking at the University of Manchester, the university invests around £6.8 million per year in postgraduate research. As if this wasn’t enough, funding is also pumped into the university from research councils, industries and other sources, ensuring its postgraduate students receive the very best. This, of course, also provides the City of Manchester with some excellent, talented individuals on a regular basis.

It isn’t just universities that are performing well though – Manchester has 170 primary and secondary schools, many of which sit within the top five per cent of the highest performing schools on a national basis.

Along with this, Manchester well and truly flies the flag for apprenticeships across all of its sectors, with the number of young people enrolling in them in the last year soaring. A record 23,300 16-24 year old  candidates chose the apprenticeship route over going to university, following the fee increase last year. Not only this, but the number of apprenticeships being opened up within companies in Manchester increased by 2,000 in 2012, with a total of 2,500 open vacancies in the first financial year for 2012.

Investment in Transport

It’s easy to see why Manchester’s decision to invest in the city’s transport infrastructure was a smart choice. Approximately 158,270 people commute into Manchester each day, with a further 34,530 people commuting out of the city on a daily basis. The ability to quickly and easily jump on a train, tram or bus, or drive into work without hitting traffic, is a huge benefit to those that have to deal with the morning (and evening) commute five days a week.

A whopping £200 million has been set aside for a mass overhaul of Greater Manchester’s transport systems, which includes both rail and road projects that will (hopefully) be completed by 2025.

The key projects include:

  • Creating a new public transport hub in Stockport

  • Easing road congestion in Stockport with new road plans

  • A new bus station in Stockport to better connect it with the train station

  • Creating new cycle routes within Stockport

  • Building a new bus and tram interchange within Asthon-under-Lyne to replace the existing bus station

  • Improving the Manchester to Bolton number 8 bus route to speed up services and to make it more reliable

  • Easing congestion throughout Manchester’s city centre, with special attention paid to the Regent Road, Water Street and Great Ancoats Street areas

  • Building the A49 and M58 link roads in Wigan

  • Upgrading Wigan’s bus station

  • Upgrading the Salford Central train station

  • Adding a link road at Junction 149 of the M62 in South Heywood

  • Fulfilling the Manchester Airport Relief Road Scheme with the A6

  • Adding a Metrolink line to the Trafford Centre

  • Upgrading Manchester Victoria station

And, of course, we mustn’t forget the great High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project that is underway throughout the North West, the Midlands and London. With this, London Euston rail station will be connected with direct routes to Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, thereby making commuting between these massive cities that much easier.

Work on electrifying the North West’s railway system has already begun, with electric trains running between Newton Le Willows and Castlefield junction outside of Manchester Piccadilly. This step forward was announced in December 2013, and signalled the completion of the first phase of the project. This was done on time and under budget as well, which certainly spells future success for the project.

In total, 58 kilometres of track in the North West will be electrified by the time the project has been completed, which will allow 100mph trains to be used on the tracks to speed up train travel.

This huge amount of investment in Manchester’s skilled workforce, educational facilities and transport connections is a clear reason why the city has boomed so much in recent years. A bird’s eye view of the city in the last decade alone would show how much has been invested in the city’s infrastructure, and shows that change is most definitely a good thing.

The only way is up for Manchester though, as more and more is being done to increase the success of the city. Through education, employment, transport and individual sector-specific changes, so much is being done to increase the potential of this city that it’s impossible to keep up at times.

The same story, elsewhere

Manchester isn’t by any means the only city in the UK to have seen great success through the embracing of change. Other cities within the country that have made excellent headway in beating London to the punch, and would certainly be classed as competitors for Manchester’s place on the throne.

For instance, Edinburgh, Southampton and Cambridge are all above the national average for economic wellbeing, as shown by pwc’s Good Growth for Cities index, which was completed in November 2013. The research looks into the top 10 indicators of performance for economic wellbeing, both from a business and public interest outlook.

In the next installment of this column, we’ll look into how these cities have achieved success, and what it is they’re doing that is really setting them apart from others around them. We’ll be covering the most obvious factors, as well as looking into ones that are completely unique to each city, in order to find the recipe for what makes the UK’s cities really tick.

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