A leading independent think tank has warned of a widening divide between England’s largest cities and nearby towns, with three in five towns falling behind their bigger neighbours.
A report released today by Demos has identified 21 largest cities and compared their performance with that of two towns closest to each city using 30 different social and economic measures – including employment levels, life expectancy and number of small businesses.
Of the 42 towns surveyed, 26 scored worse than their neighbouring city, while 16 came out on top.
The towns found to be lagging the furthest behind their respective cities were Castleford and Kirkby – surrounding Leeds and Liverpool in the north – and Shoreham and Portslade near Brighton in the south.
West Bridgford, Beverley and Sutton Coldfield outperformed their neighbours Nottingham, Hull and Wolverhampton by the largest margin. Towns in the Midlands were the best overall performers against their nearest cities.
Demos’ report, called Talk of the Town, also identified a substantial north-south divide in absolute socioeconomic performance, affecting both towns and cities.
Read More: The North-South life expectancy divide
Overall, towns beat their nearest cities on 22 of the 30 individual measures, including employment levels, life expectancy, child development for under-fives and electoral turnout.
Life expectancy and fertility rates are higher in towns and they also tend to have lower rates of childhood obesity, but higher rates of adult obesity.
However, Demos said this is not enough to bridge the gap in performance because towns tended to be least successful on some of the most important criteria for a place’s social and economic strength – including residents’ qualification levels, and their health and wellbeing.
Ally Paget, the co-author of the report, said: “The findings of this report suggest that the majority of English satellite towns are eclipsed by their nearest cities in some of the most important respects - such as residents’ health and level of qualifications.
“It is clear that, for better or worse, England’s towns have different social and economic circumstances from their urban neighbours. If efforts at securing growth are too focused on cities, ignoring what towns need and what they have to offer, there is a very real danger that England’s towns will continue to be left behind,” she added.