Top economists: Greater Manchester has world-class strengths but is still punching below its weight

An expert panel chaired by Cambridge public policy officer, Diane Coyle, has shown results of an independent prosperity review on the current state and the future of Greater Manchester’s economy.

The review found that the city-region has “world-class strengths” but still has work to do to reduce social disparities, boost wages and improve productivity.

The resulting report produced by the independent panel, which includes head of Bloomberg Economics, Stephanie Flanders, highlights Greater Manchester’s strengths in health innovation and world-leading advanced materials such as Graphene. It also emphasises the city-region’s strengths in manufacturing, digital and creative industries, and professional services.

Alongside the positive findings, however, the review report stresses that there are clear challenges for the city-region’s leaders: it concludes that more needs to be done to reduce social inequality, drive up wage growth, and boost productivity – particularly in sectors such as retail and social care where there is often high employment but low pay and low productivity.

The report will be used to drive Greater Manchester’s economy forward and underpin the ambitious Local Industrial Strategy being developed jointly by Greater Manchester and central government.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “This review sets out just what we need to do to propel Greater Manchester’s economy forward and deliver prosperity to all who live and work here.

“While there is much to be optimistic about in this report, there are some stark messages that should come as no surprise: regional inequality still persists, and we’re still facing barriers beyond our control when it comes to growth.

“We are now working with the government to develop an ambitious Local Industrial Strategy which will respond to many of these issues and allow us to provide that extra strength to the UK’s economy. We can deliver the Northern Powerhouse we’ve been promised but we will need to continue to work closely with ministers to do so.”

The panel’s recommendations focus on three areas: the contribution of health to productivity; the importance of increasing skills and their utilisation by employers; and the role of innovation and infrastructure.

The report recommends that the Greater Manchester city-region:

  • ensures there are programmes to improve people’s health, so they can work and remain economically active
  • develops a skills and education framework to ensure local people are given the skills the city-region needs
  • focuses on improved employment standards
  • creates an integrated transport network to improve connectivity
  • secures substantial devolved funding to improve local infrastructure
  • carries out further work to commercialise Graphene.

Commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority to be independent of local and national government, the review has been delivered by a panel of six leading experts, with input from academics, think-tanks, businesses, the community and voluntary sector, social enterprise, and the public sector.

It comes ten years on from the Manchester Independent Economic Review (MIER), which suggested Greater Manchester was “punching below its weight” when compared to similar international cities, and although the new research and evidence for this latest review shows that much has improved, the fundamental conclusion still stands.

Regional inequality persists and has widened since the financial crisis; productivity rates in the UK and its regions have stagnated or fallen further behind other regions and countries; and skills levels amongst both the young and old have stubbornly failed to improve.

Greater Manchester’s Local Industrial Strategy, when it is adopted, will need to address the low productivity and low skill areas of the city-region’s economy, to create good jobs around the whole of Greater Manchester, as well as boosting productivity in sectors at the frontier of innovation.

The review can be found at

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