Can smart cities drive regional prosperity?

Launched at the CBI Annual Conference 2016, a new report from the Centre for Cities makes a powerful case for abandoning a London-centric approach to growth and prosperity, says Relocate’s Fiona Murchie.

Smart cities and regional prosperity UK
It seems that graduates are already writing off jobs in regional cities in favour of London careers. As an employer based in Kent and a mother of two Generation Y children, I can personally vouch for that.A report by the Centre for Cities, The Great British Brain Drain: Where Graduates Move and Why, publication of which coincided with the CBI Annual Conference 2016, shows that 24 per cent of employed graduates from UK universities were working in London within six months of graduating.According to the report, the capital attracted more than a third (38 per cent) of new Russell Group graduates with first-class or upper-second-class degrees who moved for a job – around 13 times as many as Manchester, the second most popular destination for this group. 

Boosting city-regions  

Commenting on the findings of the report, Alexandra Jones, chief executive of the Centre for Cities, said, “The government will not achieve its vision of extending prosperity and growth across the country unless it takes steps to help more cities to attract and retain the UK’s top talent. "Wage subsidies and other specific graduate-retention policies will not tackle the root causes of this issue. Instead, the priority for national and local leaders should be strengthening city-region economies and increasing local demand and opportunities for graduates."In the Autumn Statement, the government should therefore focus on boosting economic growth in city-regions across the country by investing in large-scale housing and transport projects. It should also use the new economic and industrial strategy to reinforce and complement the devolution deals currently in place for city-regions like Greater Manchester, to give them greater scope to grow their economies and to develop and attract talented workers."

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Another Centre for Cities report, Competing with the Continent: How Cities Compare with their European Counterparts, also makes interesting reading for business leaders and global mobility professionals trying to map out their organisation’s post-Brexit plan.

CBI discussion panel

The CBI’s Smart Cities panel discussion was timely amid the growing awareness of the discontent and disconnection felt in the regions post-Brexit, and the inclusion of Michael Hancock, mayor of Denver, USA, was inspired.Watch this video for tips on how British business can learn from Denver’s experience.
Led by Joel Hills, business editor of ITV News, the panel explored how government and business could work together to unlock regional growth. The CBI’s director-general, Carolyn Fairbairn, set the scene.Panellist Chris Ireland, UK chief executive of property consultancy JLL, spoke about how a city needed the right environment if people were to live, work and develop there. New buildings, he explained, had to be flexible and innovative, but it took more than that: the whole public space and amenity must be vibrant, creating an environment where institutions interfaced with business.All new buildings and the space needed to be connected, Mr Ireland said. The property industry been a bit behind, and the office environment had been a bit staid. However, he gave examples of areas in Britain where there had been an appetite to invest in regional cities, citing Cambridge, where the relationship is right, with a high-quality university, technology, science parks and a teaching hospital. The UK’s world-class university system attracted graduates to the regions, Chris Ireland pointed out, but the challenge was to keep them there. The answer was to build an environment and an exciting place to live and work, so that graduates and young talent didn’t need to go to London.Dr Alison Vincent, Cisco International’s chief technology officer, UK & Ireland, explained how artificial intelligence and robotics would change our jobs but also drive creativity and new experiences. If the UK didn’t apply technology, other countries and smart cities in the world would, she warned.Dr Vincent believes that the government needs to provide help with creating more regional innovation hubs. These can be found in London, and Cisco is investing in Manchester, but more should be done to invest in other cities. In the right environment, where small companies can feed off each other, they come up with an idea, create a first business, and that grows into a large company. We will explore the topic of smart cities further across the Relocate media. To contribute to the discussion, email

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