Manchester – The Capital of the North (2 of 6)

Manchester – The Capital of the North. Blog 2 of 6 in this series about business in the Northwest of England.

Widely accepted as the world’s first industrialised city, the City of Manchester continues to dominate the economy of the North of England. It’s second only to London in terms of total production and is ranked overall as the 22nd largest city in Europe. Manchester Airport is the busiest in the UK outside London and, according to research conducted in 2010 by the Global and World Cities (GaWC) Research Network, the city is the second most globally influential in the UK after London. It’s growing rapidly too and has achieved +5% in business stocks (to year-end 2012) since the 2008-2010 downturn; better than any other regional city in the UK. Despite all this, however, Manchester has had a chequered past and still supports one of the largest disparities in wealth and quality of living in the country.

Evolving from its historical identity as an industrial town, central to the textile industry, Manchester’s economy is now primarily knowledge-driven. Quaternary industries in sectors like biotechnology, Green-Tech and Advanced Manufacturing are booming, along with service industries like law, finance and real estate. All this is powered to a large extent by the University, which is ambitious, and now ranked seventh in Europe for academic excellence and the quality of its research. A long way it is from ‘the dark satanic mills’ of William Blake’s poem.

One of the main reasons for Manchester’s success in recent years has been the quality of its transport links. Aside from the airport (the North of England’s only international gateway, serving more international destinations than any other airport in the country, and the new home of DHL’s major UK operations), Manchester has more motorways than any other city in the UK. It’s a four-hour drive away from every major population centre from

London to Edinburgh, and within two hours of 60% of UK companies. London is 2 hours 8 mins away by train, with major development projects like the Northern Hub and HS2 set to decrease this to 1 hour 8 mins by 2033. The Manchester Ship Canal provides a route for freight to the Irish Sea, with the ambitious ‘Port Salford’ project – the UK’s first Tri-modal (road, rail and sea) inland port facility – due to open in 2015.

Infrastructure and proximity like this are the main draw for companies like Adidas, Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble, who all have their major UK distribution hubs in Manchester. So, too, do major international logistics firms like Wincanton and Kuehne & Nagel. The recent development of the new Spinningfields district has also created a financial sector, recently described by the Financial Times as the Canary Wharf of the North. Nearshoring operations by the Royal Bank of Scotland since 2007 mean that 7,000 people in Manchester are now employed by the bank at their flagship office building, 1 Angel Square, recently declared the ‘greenest building on earth’ after achieving a BREEAM rating of 95.32%.

grim up north(resize)Despite all this growth, development and infrastructure, according to the Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2010 available here. Manchester remains the fourth most deprived local authority area in England. Although this represents a significant improvement from 2004 when it was ranked second, there has been no change in its position since 2007. Furthermore, much of this deprivation can be shown to be affecting children and older people, with 110 and 120 of 259 LSOAs (Lower Super Output Areas – a geographic subdivision used in population statistics) respectively, in the worst 10% for these categories nationwide.

The data is heavily based on income and employment statistics, and there is some good news where access to housing is concerned. Significant investment in housing by city and local government, the building of large numbers of new houses and the government’s shared equity scheme for new buyers, have all contributed to an improvement in access to adequate housing, such that none of Manchester’s 259 LSOAs now fall within the worst 10%, a significant improvement from 37 in 2007. In virtually all other areas, too, significant improvements are demonstrable across the authority; but clearly, more is needed.

Manchester has ridden a rocky course in its transition from an economy dominated by textile and heavy industry through de-industrialisation to a mix of high-tech, green and quaternary service industries. It has emerged as a thriving and diverse modern city, connected globally and nationally with a world-class university and a vibrant creative atmosphere. Its record of consistent growth, low property and land prices, and unrivalled infrastructure makes it an ideal place to start and grow a business.

Apr 16, 2015