Research Report

Rethinking place to understand spatial productivity patterns


Recent research demonstrates that the UK is very spatially unequal when it comes to productivity with 72% of regions (NUTS3, 2016) performing below the UK average(McCann, 2020; Nguyen, 2019; Zymek & Jones, 2020). A 2019 UK2070 Commission report points to lagging urban areas as an important source of these gaps(Martin et al., 2019).  In 2020, the OECD noted the underperformance of UK core cities relative to international peers, while Core Cities UK found that these places were not living up to their growth potential. The Centre for Cities quantifies the impact of urban underperformance noting that if the eight largest laggards alone closed their output gap the UK economy would be £47.4 billion larger(Cambridge Econometrics, 2018; OECD, 2020; Swinney & Enenkel, 2020).  Prior to COVID-19, tackling these patterns of spatial inequality were a high priority forming the rationale behind the ‘levelling up’ agenda of the current administration. However, regional inequalities have taken on a new degree of urgency as productivity will likely be an important element of post-COVID-19 economic recovery and resilience(Sena, 2020).  Spatial patterns of productivity can offer a clue as to which places hold the most promise and face the most peril and understanding these dynamics is critical to crafting place-based approaches and interventions(Arestis, 2020; Tsvetkova et al., 2020).  However, we argue that our current methodologies are producing an incomplete picture of the productivity landscape and diluting the value of inter-city and inter-regional comparisons. The spatial boundaries currently in use6 – such as primary urban areas (PUAs) for urban cores - tend to distort our perception of economic performance of places to the extent that, because of their methodological construction based largely on jurisdictional areas, the analysis based upon them can reach misleading conclusions. A new approach is required.

Attached files


Nelles, Jen
Brown, Adam
Nyanzu, Elvis
Vorley, Tim

Oxford Brookes departments

Oxford Brookes Business School


Year of publication: 2020
Date of RADAR deposit: 2021-11-30

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