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When it comes to who wears the crown of being the UK’s ‘second city’, the competition can be fierce. London is the country’s capital, there’s no denying that, but over the last few decades continued development, gentrification and burgeoning culture have created several excellent contenders for the silver medal.

The closest thing that we have to a real answer is Birmingham, according to Prime Minister David Cameron back in February 2015. However, the mighty Midlands metropolis has plenty of rivals, one of the most prominent of which is Manchester. A 2017 study done by BMG for the Birmingham Mail even found that 38% of the population believe that Manchester already holds the title – but why is this, exactly?

When you look beyond Manchester’s rock stars and fantastic feats of football, you will find that it actually has a great deal more to offer. Many choose to move to Manchester to enjoy the booming job market, the unforgettable nightlife or simply the local house prices, which could easily be reason enough for fed-up Londoners.

Still, does Manchester deserve the title? The ‘achievement’ itself is unofficial, with various parties having offered it to Glasgow, Dublin and even Calcutta over the last few hundred years!

In other words, it’s up to you to decide for yourself. With that in mind, let’s take a look at whether Manchester really is the UK’s second city.

The job market

In terms of job growth, Manchester has undergone something of a renaissance. The formerly downtrodden city centre has been transformed, attracting both startup companies and big businesses.

Manchester may have been one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution, but the days of smoggy textile factories have long since passed. You may be surprised to hear that some of Manchester’s largest industries now include energy and environment, advanced engineering, research and even entertainment. Coronation Street, filmed in Manchester since the 1960s, has long been a national staple for soaps. In 2004, the BBC even made the decision to move a sizable chunk of its operations to Salford in order to better serve northern audiences.

While the broadcasting giant’s impact on the local economy has long been debated, there is no denying that Manchester’s job market has seen some impressive growth. A report by Centre for Cities found that from 1998 to 2015, Manchester city centre had seen job growth of 84%, compared to 71% in London and just 30% in Birmingham.

Granted, the average salary for Manchester can still put people off. Payscale currently puts it at £26,417, compared to a whopping £34,991 in London. However, it is worth remembering just how much this can be offset by local property prices. According to Rightmove, the average price for houses in London last year was an incredible £627,818, compared to £194,222 in Manchester.

In other words, even with lower salaries than elsewhere, Manchester can still offer some well worthwhile employment opportunities – and now is a great time to take advantage!


The local culture

Manchester has undoubtedly become a thriving cultural hotspot, not just for the UK but also the world. With a repertoire that includes incredible museums, music festivals, theatres and galleries, cultural buffs will find no shortage of new experiences in the northern powerhouse.

Really, do we need to say anything about the Manchester music scene? Simply mentioning it instantly gets the lyrics for Wonderwall stuck in our heads, and it doesn’t end there. The New Yorker once described the Manchester International Festival as “probably the most radical and important arts festival today”, and the city continues to attract the very best in live music from across the globe.

Museums, too, have a special significance in Manchester. Some of the country’s most revered museums call the city home, including:

  • The Manchester Museum
  • Imperial War Museum North
  • MSI Manchester
  • People’s History Museum
  • National Football Museum (naturally!)

Even foodies will find plenty to experience in Manchester. The world famous ‘Curry Mile’ is home to more than 70 South East Asian restaurants, and there is no shortage of everything from street food to Michelin-class dining experiences for every tasty genre imaginable.

The future is sure to bring a great deal of further cultural development for the possible-second city. With the 2016 ‘Northern Powerhouse Strategy’, the government announced an incredible cash injection of £78 m to fund a new Manchester theatre, ‘The Factory’ (itself a homage to Factory Records, another icon of Manchester culture).

Local transport

As any business or cultural buff knows, for a location to thrive it must have excellent transport links. Commuters who want to take advantage of Manchester’s economy, music scene, theatres or eateries can’t be expected to endure traffic jams, not when urban centres like Birmingham make travelling an absolute breeze.

Unfortunately for these competitors, however, Manchester is more than capable of enabling both tourists and permanent movers. This year InsideFlyer listed Manchester Airport as being the third busiest in the UK, and the busiest outside of London, with an estimated 26,018,000 travellers heading through the terminals every year.

The city’s rail system is also nothing to shake a stick at. Train commuters can get from London to Manchester in an incredible two hours, and Network Rail has invested billions in local train links as part of the ‘Great North Rail’ project.

Granted, Manchester may not have a match for the London Underground, but the Metro Shuttle Bus offers a handy (and free) replacement for commuters in the city’s primary business and shopping districts. The Metrolink tram is also so reliable that it doesn’t even need a timetable – quite a bold claim, especially to those used to constant strike action on London tube lines.

Our verdict

As we mentioned previously, the title of the UK’s ‘second city’ is largely symbolic. The Prime Minister may have awarded the title to Birmingham, but that has hardly silenced the ongoing debate, and plucky Manchester certainly has a great deal to make it worthy of the honour.

If you are considering moving to Manchester, you will not only find plenty to enjoy but also some incredible opportunities to develop your career, invest in local property or even fulfil your dreams of going on stage!

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