Cities Outlook report shows Norwich among most improved urban economies since 1901

A report surveying Britain's industrial heritage has shown Norwich to be one of the nation's most improved urban economies during the last century.

Cities Outlook 1901, a lottery-funded research project by the think tank Centre for Cities, is a comprehensive analysis of 57 urban centres, showing how they have evolved since the turn of the 20th century.

Using a series of indicators based on census data from 1901 and 2011, the report creates 'City Index' figures for both years, based on factors such as income, employment, property values and the ratio of manual to professional workers.

Norwich's index increased from 28.5 in 1901 to 75 in 2011 – with the rise of 46.5 being the fourth highest in the UK behind Warrington, Preston and Swindon.

Conversely, industrialised cities like Liverpool and Bradford saw their indices fall by 51.8 and 55.3 respectively.

Centre for Cities said Norwich's relative success was built on the adaptability of its skilled workforce, its greater diversity of enterprise and its lack of reliance on traditional manufacturing industries.

Senior analyst Naomi Clayton, the author of the report, said: 'In 1901 Norwich was a relatively small city with relatively low levels of what we call economic distress, which is our measure for unemployment. It had relatively high skills and was slightly more diverse than other town and city economies across the UK.

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'It specialised in shoe and boot manufacture, but manufacturing didn't account for as big a proportion of employment as it did in other cities, so it was slightly more diverse.

'Over the 20th century, Norwich saw substantial growth as a professional service centre for the wider region, and the region grew and developed as a result. That is primarily why we see Norwich doing so much better over the course of the 20th century.'

Nationally, Centre for Cities said the report showed that the skills spectrum across the country in 1901 is mirrored in cities' economic strength today, proving the need for government to continue to invest in education and training.

'One of the most important lessons from this work is the importance of skills,' said Ms Clayton. 'They were the biggest determinant of success in cities throughout the 20th century and they are going to continue to be fundamental through the 21st.

'What this highlights is that any lack of short-term expenditure at city level with regards to education and training provision, or investment in infrastructure like transport and housing, may result in a bigger bill in future.'

Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for economic development, Ann Steward, said support for creative and manufacturing industries had been key to the city's success, as well as investment in the health and life sciences sector at the Norwich Research Park and infrastructure improvements through the Norwich Area Transportation Strategy.

'It is pleasing to see Norwich is doing well and has been recognised as easily adapting to a changing economy,' she said. 'Norfolk County Council, along with other local authorities such as Norwich City Council, continue to invest in the city's infrastructure and economy.

'Looking ahead, our economic growth strategy for Norwich and Norfolk puts the highest priority on investment in infrastructure – including roads, rail and high-speed broadband – and on developing a skilled workforce.

'This is why we are supporting apprenticeships in sectors such as engineering and energy, backing up our Better Broadband campaign with �15m, and developing our transport plans for Norwich, including the Northern Distributor Road. We see the A11 improvements between Thetford and Barton Mills as another step forward, and will continue to press for improvements to the A47, and to the Norwich to London railway line.'

The City Indices in the report were calculated on comparable indicators available from census statistics. The 1901 City Index is based on levels of 'economic distress', property values, the ratio of manufacturing to services, Joint-Stock Company registrations and professional employment. The 2011 City Index is based on Jobseeker's Allowance claimant rates, graduates, business start-up rates, house prices and manufacturing to knowledge-intensive employment ratios.