By Gareth Reilly, graduate trainee at City of London Corporation
‘London acts as a continual drain on the rest of the country both for industry and population, and much evidence points to the fact that it is already too large’ - a quote from a report of the Royal Commission on the Distribution of the Industrial Population from 1940, which many people might still see as true today. This quote highlights the age old debate of whether or not London is a help or hindrance to the rest of the UK. As a recent graduate who studied in Leeds and has just moved to London, I was extremely curious to discover whether these old assumptions were based on fact or fiction.
Coming from the demographic which is perceived to be at the forefront of this inward migration provides me with the perfect opportunity to delve into more detail about the issues surrounding this and which other groups are affected. It is widely regarded that London acts as a magnet for young graduates from other regions across the UK and, on the whole, the existing data would support this argument. However this doesn’t tell us the whole picture. A report produced by the Centre for Cities has looked at this in depth, and has been very instrumental in helping to answer these questions. It shows that London actually loses more of its population from outward migration than it gains from inward migration. Figures from the report show that between 2009 -2012, 775,000 people moved in to London, whilst 933,000 moved out of London during the same period. These statistics point to the idea that there is more at play than simply young people moving to the city.
What impact do these trends of inward and outward migration have on London? The first, and the most relevant to me, and many like me is the disproportionate amount of young twenty-something year olds heading to the capital. Between the ages of 21 – 30 the net inflow of people far exceeds the net outflow and the biggest contributors to the net inflow for London were the other major cities. In total, there was a net inflow of 48,400 22-30 year olds from large cities to London, 58% of the total net outflow from large cities. The impact of student migration has had a large bearing on this trend. Many students have migrated from smaller non-city areas to study at universities within large cities. This has generated a large surge of net inflows to these cities, but once graduated the data shows that many are leaving, often for London. This would support the idea that whilst other cities attract young people for their education, London draws them in soon afterwards, but it does not explain why London loses population to UK migration year on year. For that, we have to look at population from aged 30 onwards. From the age of 30 onwards the net outflow of people from London starts to exceed that of the net inflow, suggesting that as people get older and possibly begin to settle down they seek to leave London as a place of residence. This is not to say that they are not still affiliated with London; in fact the majority who leave from this age onwards don’t tend to move very far away. The majority tend to remain in what is deemed the ‘commuter belt’ of surrounding counties that makes for an easy travel into the city for the working day.
So what is the cause of this net migration from large cities to London? Well, it could be argued that the allure of living in one of the world’s metropolises is very appealing, and from personal experience this opportunity was one of the most key factors in my decision to move from Leeds. But it cannot be the only reason - of course London is a megacity but many of the other large cities throughout the UK have some of the same attributes and features just on a smaller scale. In fact the key appeal of London is the wealth of jobs available and the career progression which this entails. Between 2009 and 2012 35% of all the available jobs within London were graduate level jobs; in contrast the other major cities came in at 26%. I would have to agree that searching for graduate level jobs within Leeds and London threw up two very different prospects. Whilst in Leeds I struggled to identify any jobs that would best match my skill set, in London there were numerous opportunities for different roles which fitted. And I am not alone - from my course last year I am aware of at least five others who now live and work in London in comparison to the one who stayed on in Leeds.
It is clear from the data then that London is a magnet to young, career driven graduates flocking to the city in search of jobs. As Centre for Cities flag, then, a challenge for other cities is what other economic opportunities they can offer young people, to retain their skills locally.