We have a new website go to gov.scot

Competitive Scottish Cities? Placing Scotland’s cities in the UK and European context


Competitive Scottish Cities?
Placing Scotland's cities in the UK and European context

Chapter 1. Introduction

1.1 Cities are once again high on the UK government's policy agenda. In common with many European governments, the government no longer sees cities as problems or as a drain upon the nation's economy - but as current or potential drivers of improved regional and national economic performance. This has led to a growing concern to define and understand the nature and roots of urban economic competitiveness in the UK and abroad. In particular there is a belief amongst policy makers at many levels of government that UK provincial cities do not compare well with leading European cities - or indeed London - and that they lack the powers, resources and responsibilities to improve their economic performance. For example, during the past two years, the English Core Cities Working Group which includes the eight English, Regional Development Agencies and the economic departments of UK government has been exploring the position of UK cities in a European context and the potential policy implications. They commissioned the European Institute for Urban Affairs (EIUA) to undertake a review of the evidence of the comparative performance of a series of continental cities. That work was published in 2004 as Competitive European Cities? Where Do the Core Cities Stand? (Parkinson et al 2004)

1.2 The Scottish Executive commissioned the European Institute of Urban Affairs to extend its analytic work on European and English cities to the leading Scottish cities. Hence this project benchmarks the performance of the six Scottish cities - Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling and Inverness - against a number of successful European Cities and the English Core Cities. It makes the best possible use of readily available, quantitative data to track socio-economic change and compare the performance of these different cities over time.

What is urban competitiveness?

1.3 The EIUA shares the definition of competitiveness developed by Michael Storper as "the ability of an economy to attract and maintain firms with stable or rising market shares in an activity while maintaining stable or increasing standards of living for those who participate in it" (Storper 1997). The competitiveness of cities is not just about the income of firms but also how that income goes to residents. Our work for the Competitive European Cities identified six critical characteristics that contribute to urban competitiveness; the first five of these are explored in this study:

  • Innovation in firms and organisations
  • Economic diversity
  • A skilled workforce
  • Connectivity - internal and external
  • Quality of life - social, cultural and environmental
  • Strategic capacity to mobilise and implement long-term development strategies

Measuring performance

1.4 Comparative studies of city performance often highlight the lack of robust city level data that is comparable on a trans-national basis. As a result many studies have relied on regional or city-region data. These studies of competitiveness 1 tend to use very similar indicators of success. Often these are the best possible measures, but in some cases researchers have to balance what's desirable with what is possible and make effective use of the best available data. Consequently many of the factors most pertinent to competitiveness - including innovation, governance and connectedness - remain little quantified on a comparative basis.

1.5 The measures we used in this study are simple, transparent and accessible. They are designed to capture the big picture across a range of socio-economic factors and track the performance of urban areas over time across the drivers of competitiveness. The indicators included in this report have been selected since they:

  • identify the extent to which the cities possess characteristics that contribute to competitiveness;
  • provide a comparative overview of each of the cities;
  • place the performance of Scotland's cities in the wider UK and European context;
  • provide supporting evidence against which to interpret and assess other studies.

Defining the city

1.6 Cities vary significantly in scope and scale and these differences are in part due their boundaries. "Under-bounding" occurs when the administrative of a city does not correspond with its real economic reach or influence. Others are "over-bounded", incorporating large areas of rural or semi-rural land along with the urban area. The cut off point for city boundaries can have a significant impact on their performance socio-economic indicators (Cheshire 1997). For example, cities in England tend to have high levels of deprivation concentrated in the inner-city areas with wealthier suburbs towards the edge of the area. Tightly drawn boundaries can exclude successful areas from citywide averages. The opposite can be seen in many French and Italian cities where deprivation is often concentrated on peripheral housing estates. There tightly drawn boundaries exclude less successful areas.

1.7 To ensure true comparability when evaluating city performance across Europe, city boundaries data would need to be standardised, ideally on a basis that reflected the functional reach of the urban area rather than administrative boundaries. However, data is not readily available for 'ideal' boundaries. Data presented in this report is for standard geographies - most usually the cities as defined by their current administrative boundaries. This has three advantages. First, this is the level of political accountability. Second, this is the functional level of most service delivery. And finally, this is the spatial level at which most readily available secondary data is published.

Where did we look at and why?

1.8 This project adds the six Scottish cities to the list of cities covered in the Competitive European Cities Project. These European cities were identified as competitive cities in the EU's Islands of Innovation report (Hilpert 1992). This initial list was expanded to include cities that had performed well since the early nineties - Barcelona, Helsinki, Toulouse and Lille. The eight English Core Cities are also included; these provided the main focus of the original work.

Table 1.1: Study Cities

Scottish Cities

English Core Cities

European Cities






























1.9 In the case of Inverness and Stirling it was inappropriate to use the relevant Local Authority boundary as these cover large areas of rural Scotland. Instead, wherever possible, the wards identified as 'Inverness' in Highland Council's Local Plan April 2003, and the wards which best-fit the 'Stirling City' area as defined by Stirling Local Authority were used. Population, employment, benefits and unemployment data are all available for these ward- based boundaries. Where data for these boundaries has not been available Local Authority data has been included, this is indicated in the text with the label 'Highland' or 'Stirling LA'.

1.10 Where data has not been available at the local authority level we have used data for larger spatial levels. The Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics (NUTS) is a hierarchical classification of administrative areas, used across the European Union for statistical purposes. Much of the data produced by Eurostat is for these larger areas. Whilst this is not ideal NUTS 3 data for Edinburgh and Glasgow does correspond with local authority boundaries. The NUTS 2 and NUTS 3 areas for the Scottish cities are listed below.

Table 1.2: NUTS Areas

Scottish Cities





Eastern Scotland



South Western Scotland


Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and North East Moray

North Eastern Scotland


Angus and Dundee

Eastern Scotland


Perth & Kinross and Stirling

Eastern Scotland


Inverness & Nairn and Moray, Badenoch & Strathspey

Highlands and Islands