Innovative spatial analyses of commuting data to develop best practice labour market area definitions needed by policy-makers in the UK and internationally

Mike Coombes (CURDS, Newcastle University) and Andy Bates (Office for National Statistics)

National Statistical Institutes along with Eurostat and the OECD are increasingly responding to the need for data on areas whose boundary definitions make them more policy-relevant. Economic and regional policy-makers recognise that policy targeting is improved by using well-defined labour market areas, and in the UK for half a century Travel-to-Work Areas (TTWAs) have met this need with updated definitions after each Census. Over this period refinements to the methodology were enabled by the availability of increasingly detailed Census commuting flow matrices and hugely increased computing power. This development work has involved the UK’s Office for National Statistics (and its predecessors) working with Newcastle University geostatistical researchers. The result is a highly flexible and partially self-optimising algorithm that is identified as ‘best practice’ for labour market area definitions, while having the transferability to also produce suitable results with different data, at varying scales for different policy purposes and in very different countries. The presentation will briefly describe the TTWA method and illustrate its value in two ways. First an overview of the changes in TTWA boundaries over several decades shows how the definitions reveal the effect on UK labour market areas of the increasingly complex work and commuting behaviour of different groups in the labour force. Subsequently the presentation will summarise on-going work promoted by Eurostat that seeks to generate ‘harmonised’ labour market area boundaries across the continent by exploiting the transferability of the TTWA definition method.