10 Best UK Cities for Work in 2022

Our 2022 study ranks the top 10 urban places for work-life balance and employee satisfaction.

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We’ve been investigating the UK’s best places for all the things that make the daily grind that bit easier, like getting to work (without breaking the bank), co-working spaces, and wellbeing benefits.

The results are now in from our Startups Cities Index, and we can confirm that Sheffield is officially the best place for work in the UK in 2022.

Of course, as the world shifts online, you don't need a physical space to succeed as a business owner.

If you're not working in any of our top cities then our guide to the top website builders for small businesses will tell you everything you need to know about setting up a digital brand with our top-rated builder: Wix.

But the humble office still has a lot to give – and so do our top cities. Read on to find out how they performed.

1. Sheffield

Sheffield might seem like an unassuming place to take the prestigious Startups Cities Index crown.

However, the steel city actually managed to rank in the top ten for four of our five main research categories.

As the cost of living rises, Sheffield also acts as an excellent, inexpensive option for employees or if you’re struggling to get finance for your startup. It came in second place for lowest commercial rent.

Plus, workers in Sheffield pay just £42 per month, on average, for a monthly bus pass.

But why would you want to ride the bus? Situated right by the beautiful Peak District, Sheffield also boasts a plethora of scenic walking routes among emerald-green Yorkshire hills.

Yvonne Asquith – Business Growth Manager at Business Sheffield: “Sheffield is a great place to start a business because it's big enough to feel like there's opportunity, but small enough to feel that you can make a difference.”

2. Glasgow

Glasgow city centre

Our runner-up is Glasgow, the largest economy in Scotland and home to almost 20,000 SMEs.

The city performed well across the board for work in our analysis, with a good mix of green spaces, leisure facilities, and cheap cost of living.

As we highlighted in our guide to the best business broadband providers, the rise of superfast broadband speeds has made it possible for UK SMEs to work from anywhere. But Glaswegians needn’t worry about this specification.

Given its particularly large tech community, the city also has fantastic internet and came in third in our rankings for 4G download speeds.

Still, it’s not all about practicality. Another bonus for Glasgow, the home of COP26, is its high recycling rate and ambitious net zero target – making it a great place to be for those interested in sustainability.

James Hughes is founder and CBO of Brewgooder, an ethical beer brand based in Glasgow. Hughes told us: “There’s a sense of community in Glasgow greater than probably any other city I’ve ever stayed in.”

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3. Liverpool

Liverpool

COVID-19 has forever changed employee priorities. New business policies have meant that, increasingly, employees want to live in areas that support remote working.

On average, we found Liverpool to be the best city for digital infrastructure, making it a particularly good location for those wanting a hybrid way of working. It scored well for 4G, had the fifth-best average internet speed, and also has 5G capability to top it off.

For employees not based in Liverpool, you’ll have to settle for our guide to the best business broadband providers instead.

This, plus a large number of available parks, and low commercial rent costs, makes Liverpool an outstanding choice for small business working in 2022.

4. Bristol

Bristol city

In our Business Ideas for 2022, we highlighted sustainability as a big pull-factor for both UK consumers and workers. Bristol is the cleanest, greenest, most eco-friendly space on our list.

The south-west beauty spot is the most sustainable city in our top 10 list, with a net zero target of 2024 and the biggest emissions decrease (-50.5%) over the past 14 years.

Given its smaller population, we were also surprised to see that Bristol is home to a thriving small business community.

In spite of the economic difficulties brought about by the pandemic, it’s helped nurture 400 fresh-faced startups in just two years – an increase of 2.14% from 2020.

Bristolians can also brag about having a very low unemployment rate, and a highly-skilled workforce – proving it’s a great location for talented employees to make their mark.

5. Leeds

Leeds startup hotspot

Coming just behind Birmingham, Leeds has the second-highest working adult population. 

It’s hard to pin down what this buzzing hive of workers have been most attracted to. Maybe it’s Leeds’ creative student population? Its low cost of living? Its proximity to the beautiful Yorkshire dales? Or all of the above?

We expect to see Leeds climbing our list in the coming years – particularly as investment from big-name employers like Channel 4 gets cashed in.

In fact, Leeds is also the city on this list with the biggest number of new businesses, with its close-knit business community increasing by 6% in just the past year.

We recommend savvy jobseekers get ahead while you can!

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6. Cardiff

Cardiff city

Cardiff might be Wales’ only entrant in our top 10 list, but it more than makes up for that in qualifications.

The city came in eighth for its startup-friendly average business rate of £1,000 per year.

Employees with young children will also be well-placed in Cardiff. It posted a top ten finish for green spaces, is home to plenty of easily-accessible parks, and has a low average childcare cost of £224 per week.

Cardiff is also the main financial and business services centre in Wales. As a result, the sector provides employment for 20% of the city's workforce.

Particularly, if you’re working in finance – or, if you’re an entrepreneur looking to build an impressive business bank account in a place that’s not London – Cardiff is an exciting location to be.

7. Newcastle

Newcastle came top of our index for wellbeing, as a low-cost location that offers employees tons of social, and professional, perks.

Of all the cities in our list, Geordies can also claim the fastest commute time. It takes an average of just 17 minutes to get to work in Newcastle – which could be due to it being one of the few cities on the list to boast a metro.

And when a hard day’s work is over? Newcastle is still the place to be for winding down, thanks to its pole position for beautiful green spaces. Plus, with a huge library of leisure and hospitality businesses, it’s also a great location to look at setting up a bar or starting a cafe.

John Ryder is the founder and CEO of Hive, an employee voice platform. Here’s what he told us: “From a wellbeing perspective, Newcastle is a great place to start a business – especially since the average startup employee is part of the younger demographic.

8. Edinburgh

Edinburgh

Given the city’s huge number of university students, it’s not surprising that Edinburgh came out on top as the best city for highly-skilled workers.

65.4% of its population boast qualifications of NVQ4 or above – a resource you can tap into to take on apprentices.

Plus, if you’re a business owner, you’ll have less of a struggle recruiting talent in today’s hiring crisis. 

But as it also placed first overall for Talent, it’s clear from our research that Edinburgh is excellent not just at recruiting, but retaining, skilled employees.

Indeed, coming second for green spaces, and third for leisure and hospitality, Edinburgh has plenty for its talented workforce to enjoy.

Sonny Charles is Business Manager at Edinburgh-based Gleann Mòr Spirits Company, an alcohol manufacturer and retailer. Charles explained to us: “Edinburgh has a village feel to it, which means the spirits community all work closely together. The vibrant atmosphere draws some of the world’s best talent.”

9. Manchester

Manchester skyline

It’s the city that introduced the world to Joy Division, acid house music, and bucket hats. Now ‘Madchester’ has found a new niche as one of the fastest-growing digital and tech hubs in Europe. We think it's a particularly exciting place for tech workers.

Manchester’s active business network is another reason it placed third for Gross Value Added (a measure of the value of goods and services produced in an area) with an outstanding annual growth rate of 5.9.

There’s loads of spacious coworking offices in the land once dubbed ‘Warehouse City’ – great for flexible working.

Adding to this impressive CV, our research also found that Manchester is in the second-best region for accessing finance – a key consideration for driving startup success.

Luckily, if you’re not Mancunion, you can use our simple online quote provider tool to get the best deal on early-stage business loans.

Cllr Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council, explained: “We have worked hard in recent years to create a city that supports new business and provides opportunities for Manchester people to share in the success of the city's growth.”

10. Birmingham

Innovation Birmingham

As the UK’s second-biggest city outside of London, we knew Birmingham would make substantial waves in our index.

On average, we found the city is home to almost 6,000 SMEs more than second-place, Leeds, meaning job seekers in Brum are absolutely spoilt for choice.

Birmingham also has the highest number of business premises, giving employees a huge range of choice for where to work from.

But if you’re not one for renting, you can always take a flexible office work strategy and find the best co-working space in Birmingham.

Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council, told Startups: “2022 is the beginning of a golden decade of opportunity for Birmingham. With the arrival of HS2 this decade, investment will continue to flow into our city, providing jobs and opportunities for our residents.”

Conclusion

London might have once been considered the top destination for work-life balance. But the cost of living in the capital just can’t compete with the stellar offering from our regional darlings.

We hope our study helps you to have a better understanding of which UK cities are best for a good working life, both for small business owners and their employees.

If you’re based near any of these trendy locations, then perhaps you’ll be inspired to find a coworking space near you. 

Remember, if you aren’t based near these locations, Startups has all the information you need to set up a business from wherever you are.

Just click through the links below to get set up with:

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Helena Young
Helena Young Senior Writer

Helena "Len" Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.

Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.

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