Escaping the City? How COVID-19 might affect the UK’s economic geography

www.nesta.org.uk/report/escaping-the-city-how-covid-19-might-affect-the-uks-economic-geography/
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Escaping the City? How COVID-19 might affect the UK’s economic geography

This report explores whether the COVID-19 experience of remote working could boost economies in the UK’s regions by dispersing work from London.

The UK economy is widely considered excessively concentrated on London and the South-East, to the detriment of its other cities and regions. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a seismic shift in working patterns for many of us, with the vast majority of those in knowledge focused sectors working almost entirely from home since March 2020. Could the decoupling of work and place created by this great experiment in home working move us towards a more dispersed economy with high paid knowledge work better distributed around the UK?

This report employs scenario mapping tools to explore this through four potential futures. Plotting a slow or fast return to normal against firms or workers capturing the benefits of remote working, the report examines possible futures for both the UK’s workers and for the cities and regions across the country. Its aim is not perfect foresight, rather the report seeks to identify extensive and cross cutting themes and to make suggestions about how to manage these futures in the best interests of people and places.

Key findings

  • Opportunities presented by remote work will be contingent on broadband connections, access to computers, and digital literacy.
  • Protecting the wellbeing and rights of remote workers – especially low skilled remote workers – will become increasingly important.
  • Economic shocks to London’s low paid knowledge workers could be ameliorated and slowed by a higher national minimum wage.
  • Those currently working in hospitality will need support to cope with ongoing restrictions, muted demand and changing consumer habits.
  • In small towns and cities, the presence of large companies may become less important for local employment and prosperity.

Authors

Harry Farmer

Harry Farmer

Harry Farmer

Senior Policy Adviser, Inclusive Innovation

Harry worked to develop and advocate for policies to make the UK’s innovation economy fairer, more inclusive and more conducive to the public good.

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Oliver Zanetti

Oliver Zanetti

Oliver Zanetti

Mission Manager, A Sustainable Future mission

Oliver is a Mission Manager for the Sustainable Future mission team.

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