Good Brexit deal needed to maintain UK cities’ main export markets, report finds

Exports from British cities overwhelmingly go to the EU, according to a major new study that warned of serious economic consequences for urban centres if access to the continent is restricted following Brexit.

The Cities Outlook 2017 report, by the Centre for Cities think tank, revealed that the EU is the biggest export market for 61 out of 62 British cities. Two thirds of British cities trade half or more of their exports to the EU, with even Derby – the city least reliant on EU markets – still selling a quarter of its exports to EU countries.

The report found that British cities would have to dramatically increase trade with other international markets to compensate for a downturn in exports to the EU. For example, to make up for a 10 percent decrease in exports to the EU, British cities would have to nearly double exports to China, or increase exports to the US by nearly a third.

In total, 46 percent of exports from British cities go to EU markets – three times more than the USA, the second biggest market for UK urban exports, and five times more than exports to India, Japan, Russia, South America and South Korea combined.

Centre for Cities chief executive Alexandra Jones said: “Securing the best possible EU trade deal will be critical for the prosperity of cities across Britain, and should be the Government’s top priority… While it’s right to be ambitious about increasing exports to countries such as the US and China, the outcome of EU trade negotiations will have a much bigger impact on places and people up and down the country.”

Britain’s top exporting city is Sunderland, with £40,650 worth of exports per worker in 2014, followed by Worthing with £29,640 per worker and Slough at £27,560. London is the fifth biggest, exporting £23,470 per worker.

Car manufacturing Sunderland is also one of seven cities which are heavily reliant on a specific industry for the majority of their exports.

Jones said: “The UK faces a major challenge in boosting productivity and wages, and increasing the value and volume of city exports will be crucial in addressing those issues. National and local leaders need to consider how they can make cities more attractive to exporting firms. Improving skills and infrastructure across the UK will be vital in this, and should be a central part of the Government’s industrial strategy.”