Pro-Brexit cities in the North and Midlands will be hit-hardest by job losses to automation, a striking new report on the UK economy warns.
Urban centres such as Sunderland, Mansfield, Stoke and Blackburn are predicted to lose as many as two in five jobs to robots and automation by 2030, research published by the think tank Centre For Cities says.
Wealthy and often Remain-voting cities in the South East, meanwhile, such as Oxford and Cambridge, are much less exposed. They face losing a comparably low 13% and are best-placed to reap the benefits of new industries.
The report will intensify concern the so-called ‘rise of the robots’ will deepen economic and social divides across the UK.
Jobs in retail, customer service and warehouses were among the roles most likely to be displaced. Looking at all British cities, it is predicted that one in five existing jobs - 3.4m - are likely to disappear by 2030.
Automation will also create thousands of jobs, the report says. Up to one in 10 jobs are in occupations predicted to grow, while new industries would bring positions which do not currently exist, it is predicted.
But the North-South divide in almost every aspect could not be clearer.
Around 18% of jobs are under threat in wealthy Southern cities, compared to 23% in struggling cities elsewhere in the country.
The jobs created in the North and Midlands will largely be in low skilled occupations, while Southern cities are more likely to attract high skilled roles.
The report says cities in the South with a large share of high-skill private sector roles are likely to benefit from emerging industries.
“For example, nearly 50% of jobs predicted to increase in Cambridge – and a third of those in Oxford and Aldershot – are in high skilled private sector occupations,” the report said.
This stands in stark contrast to cities in the North and Midlands, where growth in low-skilled jobs could see the regions fall further behind the South.
The report cautions “the gulf in living standards and wages between struggling Northern and Midlands cities, and wealthier places in the South, will continue to widen in the coming decades.”
Metro mayors and local authority leaders had a vital role to play in reshaping communities, while further devolution of powers away from Westminster was essential, said Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities.
“Automation and globalisation will bring huge opportunities to increase prosperity and jobs, but there is also a real risk that many people and places will lose out,” he said. “The time to act is now – national and local leaders need to ensure that people in cities across the North and Midlands can share in the benefits these changes could offer.
“That means reforming the education system to give young people the cognitive and interpersonal skills they need to thrive in the future, and improving school standards, especially in places where jobs are most at risk. We also need greater investment in lifelong learning and technical education to help adults adapt to the changing labour market, and better retraining for people who lose their jobs because of these changes.
“In an ever more divided country, it’s increasingly clear that a one-size-fits-all approach from central government is inadequate to address the myriad issues that different places face. The challenges and opportunities ahead for Blackburn are very different to those for Brighton. The Government needs to give cities more powers and resources to tackle the issues that automation and globalisation will present, and to make the most of the benefits they will bring.”
The report also found the most start-ups and the most new patents could be found in the South, compounding concerns that tech and digital industries were too focused here.
London has the highest number of start-ups per 10,000 population (112.3), followed by Slough (82.9) and Milton Keynes (80.7). At the other end of the spectrum Dundee (33.7), Swansea (32.6) and Sunderland (32.2) were at the bottom.
But there were reasons to be cheerful for those living outside of the South East.
Although still dwarfed by the volume of businesses in London and the South East, Leeds was the city with the fastest year on year growth in business stock (11.3%) between 2015 and 2016, followed by Manchester (10%).
Cities with the least inequality are found outside of the Greater South East, also. Burnley and Hull are the most equal of all English and Welsh cities, while those with the highest concentration of wealth and high-wage jobs, such as London and Cambridge, are also the most unequal.
Although private sector job growth is slow and unemployment is high in cities such as Newcastle, Swansea and Dundee, housing is more affordable while boom cities in the South are seeing prices balloon.