Successful economies attract people whether they be countries, regions or cities. Diverse populations tend to be more tolerant, innovative, entrepreneurial and to have networks linking to elsewhere in the world, which benefit the economy. New people bring new cultural experiences whether that be events, art, food or celebrations.
The lack of diversity in the city even 15 years ago is clear from statistics. The 2001 census for Stoke on Trent saw the city population as 95% white and 96% UK born (the rest of Staffordshire was even more homogenous, for example Staffordshire Moorlands recorded 99.2 % white and 98.3% born in the UK).
The city has experienced a long term population decline in the post war period. The population of Stoke on Trent in 1951 was 275,115 and it has declined in every census up to and including the 2011 census which recorded 249,008 people. In comparison, the UK population grew from 41 million in 1951 to 63 million over the same time period tied to the post war boom in the economy. If Stoke on Trent had grown in population like the rest of the country it would now have a population of 453,000!
Currently the city population is estimated at 251,027 so for the first time in over 60 years Stoke on Trent has a growing population.
So what explains this current growth in Stoke on Trent? Throughout the 2000s three changes started to occur:
- Higher education expanded leading to an increase in all students including non-white students (often from other parts of the Midlands), international students and international staff at the two Universities.
- The coming of age of the Pakistani population that was the largest ethnic minority population (which even in 2001 only numbered 6,360 people).
- The inflow of population from Eastern Europe, which for Stoke was 3,080 people in the 2011 census.
Taken together the numbers are all low (both in absolute and percentage levels), especially compared to many other major urban areas in the UK. It is worth noting that here I have quoted numbers both foreign born and by non white ethnic group but it is worth remembering that many of these were born in the UK as well.
Therefore, the make-up of the population of the city has changed and the population is finally starting to grow though at very small levels.
Without immigrants our hospitals and care homes would struggle, our Universities would be smaller and some businesses would not be able to offer the services they do. The vacancy rate in the housing stock of the city has fallen and study after study shows that the immigrant population is a net contributor to the economy (not least because they are much less likely to claim benefits that the UK born population).
Some political parties like to blame these changes for the plight of the white working class in Stoke and elsewhere, but the reasons for economic weakness in the city are tied up with other factors. Low skills levels, lack of investment, short term planning by government, offshoring of production, very low levels of business start up and changes in the world economy are much better explanations for the low wages and economic performance of the city than trying to blame immigrants.
Some of these factors are staring to be tackled. For example the City was recently named the 2nd best place in the country to start up a business. The Ceramic Valley Project has set up sites across the city to attract businesses and this is already happening.
The City of Culture team is doing huge amounts of work talking to different groups, artists, businesses and others in the city to shape the bid and develop a positive image of the city.
As a city we need to attract investment and people – we need to present a positive and welcoming image to the outside world. An image that celebrates all the of people and communities of Stoke on Trent not just some of them.
- Population census Stoke 2011 – total pop 249,008 – white 220,712 all other ethnic groups 28,296
- Population census Stoke 2001 country of birth – total pop 249,008 born in UK 228,294 all other Europe 5,363 (of which Accession countries were 3,080) , Africa 2,805 , Middle East and Asia 10,897 America and Caribbean 731, Antarctica and Oceania 305