Where is the South West’s most vibrant place to live and work?

Wiltshire Bridge

Grant Thornton UK LLP have today published the results from its annual Vibrant Economy Index, which measures how places in England compare on a range of factors including prosperity, health, wellbeing, happiness, inclusion and equality.

It concludes that Wiltshire is the most vibrant place to live and work in the South West, closely followed by Bath and Cotswold.

Over the last five years, the South West has had mixed fortunes – Christchurch, Dorset saw the biggest jump in the local rankings, up 55 places from 236 to 181 nationally. Whereas Bristol dipped slightly, dropping 22 places.

Created to spark a debate on what type of economy we want in the UK, the Vibrant Economy Index goes beyond GDP to provide a holistic view of the social and economic performance of England’s towns and cities.

It reveals that traditional indicators of economic prosperity – which include Gross Value Added (GVA), average earnings and business turnover – do not correlate in any significant way with other measurements of performance, such as inclusion and equality.

In general, the South West faces challenges over prosperity.

Only four areas rank in the top 20% nationally – Swindon, Bristol, Tewkesbury and South Gloucestershire.

At the other end of the scale, 17 areas rank in the bottom 20%. With regards to dynamism and opportunity – which measures an area’s entrepreneurialism, success in innovating and the skills of its population to drive future growth – the story is more positive.

Sixteen areas rank in the top 40% nationally, with Wiltshire, Cheltenham and Bath the highest performers in the region.

The South West performs much better regarding the resilience and sustainability factor, which includes environmental aspects such as recycling rates, air deprivation and CO2 emissions, alongside measures of resilience, such as planning applications and dwelling completions.

Thirteen areas are in the top 20% nationally. Three – Wiltshire, Bristol and Bath – rank in the top 10.

Performance is also stronger on community, trust and belonging indicators, with 10 areas making the top 20 per cent nationally. Three – Weymouth & Portland, Bath and Exeter – rank in the top 20 nationally.

However, inclusion and equality, which assesses the gap between richest and poorest, has mixed results throughout the region.

Bristol scores well below average (278th out of 324 local authorities), with double the average levels of homelessness, and above average levels of  child poverty, NEETs and fuel poverty.

Tim Lincoln, practice leader for Bristol, Grant Thornton UK LLP, explained: “While we must celebrate the achievements of Wiltshire, Bath and Cotswold in being brilliant places to live and work, many areas in our region occupy the middle ground and have not improved over the last five years. The South West faces challenges over prosperity, though it does shine with regards to dynamism, opportunity, resilience and sustainability.

“The Index shows there’s no obvious pattern to the way performance is spread across the region, neither for overall vibrancy nor for individual baskets. This means public and private sector leaders face a range of challenges. There’s clearly a need to drive economic growth, reduce exclusion and improve wellbeing. But this needs to be done in a way that protects and builds on the area’s strengths in resilience and sustainability.”

According to the Vibrant Economy Index, Cambridge, Camden, Westminster, Wokingham and Richmond upon Thames are the most vibrant places, where there is a good balance between economic growth, social equality, sustainability and healthy and happy people. Other than Cambridge, the top 10 are all in the South of England.

However, eight of the top 10 most improved places are in the North or Midlands.