‘True prosperity’ mapped in Thriving Cities index

Happy City has launched its inaugural Thriving Places index today, a new system that goes beyond GDP to measure true local prosperity.

The Bristol-based charity has been developing a methodology since 2011 and its index is believed to be the most comprehensive analysis to date of how well local authorities are doing at creating the conditions that help people and places to thrive.

Using data from 150 local authorities in England, each place was assessed according to three main categories – local conditions, sustainability and equality – with 48 indicators including health, education and work.

The index reveals a north-south divide and some big differences between urban and rural areas; all 11 local authority areas with the lowest scores for local conditions were urban. The north east of England was the lowest performer for both local conditions and sustainability and second lowest for equality.

Bath and North East Somerset was the only local authority area to score highly in all three elements.

While other similarly wealthy areas did well on local conditions, Bath and North East Somerset also scored highly for its sustainability. Within the authority area, 59% of waste is recycled, its domestic energy consumption is around 10% lower than similarly wealthy areas, and per capita emissions are 25% below the national average.

Lambeth in south London is a good example of how the Thriving Places index offers a different picture to traditional measures of local conditions, such as the index of multiple deprivation (IMD). For, while Lambeth is ranked as one of the most deprived areas in the country according to the IMD, it scores well in terms of local conditions, sustainability and equality.

Lambeth has the fifth lowest health inequality level in England, and the highest score in the country for adult education. Its overall score is however brought down by its poor ranking in indicators including safety, housing and deprivation among older people.

The index allows councils to assess local prosperity in a more rounded way than by looking solely at GDP, and to find practical ways to improve their performance.

Liz Zeidler, founding director at Happy City said:

‘Rising inequality and climate chaos are clear alarm bells that tell us the current system is no longer fit for purpose, so we decided to take matters into our own hands and come up with a model that measures what matters.

‘The Index is a practical tool that can be used right now to help leaders who want to ensure the sum of their efforts – in every sector – is better quality of life for people now and in the future.’

Happy City is calling on local authorities to embed the system within their own systems of measurement and use it created a shared roadmap for all sectors to work together on real prosperity. It wants places to be innovative in their approaches and policies and to put the wellbeing of citizens at the heart of how they define local ‘success’.

The report argues for a range of investment needs for places, from mental and physical health to connections between people and community.

Karen Creavin, chief executive of the Active Wellbeing Society in Birmingham, which leads wellbeing services for the council, said the index is a huge step forward in being able to measure the impact of its work.

  • Read the full report here.


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