The best cities in the UK for job opportunities

Last Updated on: 22nd November 2023, 04:06 pm

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 employment data for 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 on Indeed, the number of businesses, housing affordability, and life satisfaction and happiness scores, to identify the top 15 cities for job hunters and people considering a change of career.

Milton Keynes took the top spot, ahead of Oxford in second place, and York in third, followed by St Albans and Norwich.

Based on Ciphr’s study, the top 15 UK cities for job opportunities are:

  1. Milton Keynes (#1 for job opportunities)
  2. Oxford (#1 for employment rate growth and happiness)
  3. York
  4. St Albans (#1 for highest average salary and lowest unemployment rate)
  5. Norwich
  6. Cambridge (#1 for job listings per person)
  7. Colchester (#1 for salary growth)
  8. Aberdeen
  9. Bristol
  10. Coventry
  11. Leeds
  12. Canterbury (#1 for life satisfaction)
  13. Gloucester
  14. Doncaster (#1 for housing affordability)
  15. Wrexham

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 for these cities are all around the UK average of £33,000.

Best cities for job hunters

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 on Indeed 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 small, medium and large businesses at 168.1, which means that there are over 168 employers (with 10 employees or more) 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 (with 10 employees or more) 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.

The full results are available at

More than 600 organisations use Ciphr’s integrated HR and people management solutions to help manage, retain and engage staff more effectively – while reducing the admin burden on busy HR teams.


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