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Why Aldershot? Why should the home of the Parachute Regiment suddenly be touted as the future of Britain’s cities?

Or, to put it another way, why not Aldershot? Who wouldn’t want to live in a town that tops the table with an 86.6% employment rate, is in the top four for wages, has hardly anyone claiming benefits and is among the least polarised in the UK?

It’s come a long way since my youth, when the sonorous tones of the classified football results announcer used to repeat every Saturday, ‘Aldershot… NIL’ with that faintly mocking inflection suggesting that only an inebriate could imagine a different result.

Football managers are fond of saying league tables don’t lie, usually just before they get sacked.

Aldershot’s civic leaders must be proud of their position in the league tables published this week by the Centre for Cities, but have we really discovered anything new?

One newspaper suggested Aldershot is demonstrating the rise of the ‘mini-city’.

Why risk the stratospheric prices of the capital or the grinding poverty of bigger cities when you can enjoy good jobs, relatively affordable housing, and perfectly acceptable amenities in, say, Crawley, Reading or Warrington?

The Centre for Cities had a different spin, which was about the comeback of the north – half the cities with the highest growth in employment rates are in the north.

But half of them aren’t, and inequality is still rife in all our metropolitan areas.

What the data does tell us, and starkly, is not to confuse prosperity with equality.

Some cities, such as London and Bristol, are both prosperous and polarised.

Others, like Liverpool, manage to combine economic underperformance with huge disparities.

The factors behind these trends are complex and the remedies needed are diverse.

They need to be applied intelligently according to local circumstances, which is why the Centre for Cities is right to call for further devolution.

That’s why the recent announcement of allocations from the working neighbourhoods fund, which focuses neighbourhood renewal funding more narrowly on getting people into jobs, is a retrograde step.

It’s not that people don’t need help in finding work; it’s just nonsense to assume that better places will follow.

For many, the first item on the agenda after a new job is getting a new life somewhere better.

The debate about whether area-based or people-focused policies are best is both circular and futile.

Both, and more, are needed to address the complexities of urban life. Then we might move from soundbites to solutions.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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