New research has revealed which major UK cities have the best job opportunities for the people living and working within them.
HR software provider Ciphr examined 50 locations with city status, comparing multiple factors such as their average earnings, recent salary growth, employment rate changes, unemployment rate, number of job listings, and the number of businesses to identify the top 15 cities that offer the best employment opportunities for job hunters and those considering a change of career.
Life satisfaction and happiness scores, as well as housing affordability – to reflect the local population’s general level of wellbeing and the city’s cost of living – were also included as key indicators in determining the result.
The cities ranked the highest overall for job opportunities are Milton Keynes, Oxford, York, St Albans, and Norwich.
Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, scored consistently well across multiple criteria, having a high average median wage of £38,613 (the county’s average full-time salary is 17% above the UK average of £33,000, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics), and a significant 9.4% salary growth over the last 12 months (the UK average is 5.7%). The city also has a relatively low unemployment rate of 2.8%, compared to the UK average of 3.7%.
The number of businesses based in Milton Keynes (with over 10 employees) is around 74.3 per 10,000 working-age adults, and the number of job listings on Indeed currently stands at 201 per 10,000 working-age adults (the UK averages are 68 and 183 per 10,000 respectively). The city is less competitive in terms of housing affordability though, as typical homes cost an average of 9.1 times earnings and the average rental property costs around 32% of gross pay.
Oxford, which took second place on the list, enjoyed the biggest employment rate growth of all 50 cities, recording a 16.4% increase since 2021. It ranks third for life satisfaction and happiness, and has the fifth-highest average salary at £36,692. While York, in third place, has the second-lowest unemployment rate at 2.2%, and a high number of job listings on Indeed, with around 229 postings per 10,000 working-age people.
Based on Ciphr’s study, the top 15 UK cities for job opportunities are:
- Milton Keynes (#1 for job opportunities)
- Oxford (#1 for employment rate growth and happiness)
- St Albans (#1 for highest average salary and lowest unemployment rate)
- Cambridge (#1 for job listings per person)
- Colchester (#1 for salary growth)
- Canterbury (#1 for life satisfaction)
- Doncaster (#1 for housing affordability)
Top paying cities
For workers looking for the highest earnings potential in 2023, then St Albans may be a good choice – as its average median full-time salary is 41% above the UK average at £46,551. The next highest-paying city is London, with an average salary of £39,391, followed by Cambridge, Milton Keynes, and Oxford.
When it comes to the best cities for inflation-beating salary growth, however, then the top five reads very differently. Colchester and Chichester take the top two spots, with 12.9% and 12.1% growth since 2021 respectively, followed by Wrexham (11.5%), Salford (11.2%), and Portsmouth (10.7%). Notably, the average salaries in these cities all hover around the UK average of £33,000.
Best cities for job seekers
For those job hunting right now, there are more open vacancies listed on Indeed per person in Cambridge, Exeter, and Bristol than for any other cities in the study. Analysis of data from Indeed, suggests that there are currently around 396 job postings in Cambridge per 10,000 working-age people, 373 in Exeter, and 326 in Bristol (the UK average is 183).
After Cambridge, Exeter and Bristol, the other UK cities that rank highest for job vacancies include Manchester (with 318 listings per 10,000 working-age people), Oxford (289), Norwich (286), Nottingham (272), Gloucester (259), Preston (247) and York (229).
Cities with the most employers
Business density – the number of businesses per capita – is another leading indicator of strong local economic activity, as it usually means that there are more employers (and more opportunities for employment) in the area. According to Ciphr’s research, Winchester has the highest density of businesses at 168.1, which means that there are over 168 employers (with over 10 employees) for every 10,000 working-age residents (if micro-enterprises with over five employees are included too, that figure rises to 296 per 10,000).
Chichester has the next highest number of businesses at 93.9 per 10,000, followed by Belfast (83.7), London (81.6), and St Albans (81.1). The UK average is 68 per 10,000.
Most affordable cities to buy or rent
While labour market conditions and job availability are key considerations for anyone looking to make a job switch, relocate, or get back into employment, a city’s level of affordability can have a big impact on how far wages stretch – particularly given the current cost-of-living crisis. Remote and hybrid working may enable many more people to live further away from their places of work than they once did, but in-office or on-site working (some or all of the time) is still the norm for the majority of UK workers (a Ciphr poll of 1,000 UK adults last year found that only around 11% of employees work 100% remotely).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cities that have more affordable housing costs (whether people are looking to buy or rent) are in the midlands or north of England – in Doncaster, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Hull, and Bradford.
At the other end of the scale, housing is the least affordable (compared to average salaries) in London, Oxford, Brighton and Hove, Cambridge, Bristol, and Winchester.
The best city for renters is Hull, as the average rent is around 20% of the average salary – leaving 80% for other expenses. The most expensive is Edinburgh, where the rent-to-income ratio is 46%.
The best city for home buyers is Belfast, where the average property of £156,161 (according to Rightmove) is 5.2 times the average income. In comparison, people living in London will need 18.9 times the average salary to buy the average property priced at £743,738.
The UK’s happiest cities
Based on the results of the Office for National Statistics’ latest annual personal wellbeing survey, the residents of Winchester, Lancaster and Oxford enjoy higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness than any cities in the study, with an average score of around 15.5 out of 20.
The people of Canterbury and Lancaster feel the most satisfied about their lives overall (7.91 out of 10 each), while those living in Oxford are the happiest (7.71 out of 10).
Ciphr ranked 50 of the UK’s largest cities (in terms of total population size) across nine weighted metrics – employment rate growth, unemployment rate, business density, job listings, average salary, salary growth, life satisfaction and happiness, rental affordability, and home ownership affordability – to determine the best UK cities for job opportunities.