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Reading City Status: What Would It Mean For Businesses?

By Nick East

February 4, 2019

Over the past 10 years, Reading has been trying to get a serious upgrade. Not a physical one mind you – no big new buildings or monuments or anything like that. Instead, the council have been putting in bids for Reading to become a city, instead of a town. But again and again these bids have been rejected, without any real explanations why. Over the years, many people have pondered why Reading has missed out on this civic honour, and what it might change for the people who live and work in it if that changed. After all, the title of ‘city’ doesn’t carry any official benefits, so what would be different? Today we wanted to ask – what would gaining city status do for Reading, and how would it affect all the businesses that live here?

How Is City Status Decided?

So, how do the government decide what’s a town, and what’s a city? Well, in reality, a town becomes a city whenever the Queen (or reigning monarch at the time) decides it is. There is no other official criteria for city status, although the title used to be given to towns that had diocesan cathedrals. This association between having a cathedral and being a city goes back as far as the 1540’s, when King Henry VIII founded dioceses in six English towns and granted them city status by issuing letters patent. Since then, city status has been given to 51 towns in England, six in Wales, seven in Scotland and five in Northern Ireland. If a town wants to become a city, it needs to put together a ‘bid’, which goes forward to the monarch, who makes their decision.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at bidding for city status, Reading council took matters into their own hands, and started using the phrase ‘city centre’ on buses and car park signs. Because despite the lack of city status, Reading’s urban area has over 350,000 inhabitants, making it one of the largest urban areas in the entirety of the UK – bigger than a lot of the more sizeable cities like Southampton, Kingston upon Hull and Derby.

A Nice Economic Boost

Back in 2016/2017, Reading made the papers by becoming one of the UK’s fastest growing economies, at 2.5% annual GVA increase. If you don’t know what that means, GVA stands for Gross Value Added, and essentially measures how much money is generated through goods and services produced in the area. According to Ernst & Young, this percentage GVA rise beats London GVA by 0.6%. Reading also saw the largest growth in employment (0.9%), and it was predicted to keep growing at this rate. And it has. To this day, Reading is one of the largest urban areas in the UK, and it has one of the biggest economies, which is still flourishing. Imagine what an economic boost becoming a city would be? City status would allow Reading to attract even more businesses, creating a hub for organisations in the south, with all the economic advantages that come with it. In fact, Dr Steve Musson from the University of Reading did a study on the economic impact of city status on the UK’s eight newest cities. Preston, Newport, Stirling, Lisburn and Newry were made cities in 2002, while Brighton & Hove, Wolverhampton and Inverness gained the status in 2000. Although the whole of the UK was enjoying an economic boom, the new cities (with the exception of Wolverhampton) outperformed their regional counterparts in terms of increasing investment and reducing unemployment.

Attract More Investors

Cities are a very attractive prospect to investors because, quite frankly, there are more opportunities to make money there. Investors in business, in property and in all sorts of other things will assess the attractiveness of a city based on ROI potential, and will be drawn to cities which offer then the best combination of scale, risk and return. If Reading were to gain that coveted city status, it would be a more attractive prospect for investors, who would in turn funnel money into the local economy. That means more work for local businesses, from trades to digital solutions specialists and other suppliers. In other words, all good things.


If you ignore the economic advantages becoming a city would bring, there is one more pro – recognition. As we mentioned earlier, city status doesn’t provide any funding or any official benefits. But it does bring press coverage. Every so often a report comes out where somewhere in the UK is named as the top place for growth, happiest place to live or a European city of the future. All of this looks great to investors, businesses looking to move, and customers. Being city status would bring Reading a kit of press coverage, commentators discussing the reasons behind the decision, and top political figures discussing what makes the town so culturally and economically viable. This would undoubtedly improve the attractiveness of Reading to all sorts of people, and fuel business growth.
At Verbatim, we love the idea of Reading becoming a city. It would be an amazing thing for everyone, from residents to business owners and more. And when all those business owners get so busy they can’t answer their phones, we’re here to help! To find out more about what we do, just get in touch with the team today.


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