Workers in Mansfield, Sunderland and Wakefield are at the highest risk of having their jobs taken by machines, according to a report warning that automation stands to further widen the north-south divide.
Outside of the south of England, one in four jobs are at risk of being replaced by advances in technology – much higher than the 18% average for wealthier locations closer to London. Struggling towns and cities in the north and the Midlands are most exposed. A total of 3.6m UK jobs could be replaced by machines.
The Centre for Cities thinktank says almost one-third of the jobs in the Nottinghamshire town of Mansfield, which is home to the Sports Direct warehouse, are involved in lines of work under threat as robots begin to replace humans in the years up to 2030. Jobs at the highest risk of replacement include those in retail sales, customer services, administration and warehouse work.
Sunderland, Wakefield, Stoke and Doncaster rank just behind Mansfield for the most-vulnerable, where close to 30% of jobs are in roles likely to shrink as technology renders significant numbers of jobs redundant.
About 16% of Mansfield’s jobs are in retail, while one in 10 work in warehouse jobs or admin roles. Alongside the Sports Direct warehouse at Shirebrook to the north of the town centre, major employers include packaging and print firm Linney – which supplies companies such as Boots and Tesco – and electronic appliance firm Glenair.
The Centre for Cities report will reignite the debate over the widening gulf between the north and south of the UK, as it suggests more affluent cities in the south are in better shape to cope with automation. At the other end of the scale to the troubled towns of the north, 13% of jobs in Oxford and Cambridge are in at-risk occupations.
Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “In an ever more divided country, it’s increasingly clear that a one-size-fits-all approach from central government is inadequate to address the myriad issues that different places face.”
Although some workers will lose their jobs, the rise of automated work could help boost flagging productivity levels in Britain, which have held back pay growth over the past decade since the financial crisis. While new roles will emerge, trade unions have warned that more spending will be required to support retraining for those displaced by machines.
Ideas such as a universal basic income, or increased spending on services, have been floated. As has enforced profit sharing or higher taxes for companies making heavy use of robots, to avoid changes in work that widen the gap between rich and poor.
From the 62 towns and cities in the study, all stand to benefit from the creation of new jobs unlocked by technological advances. But the report suggests there will be more lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs created in the north than in the south.
In Cambridge, for example, almost half of the jobs growth over the next decade will be in high-skilled, private sector roles while in Bradford and Blackburn they will represent just one in 10. The report’s authors said this raised the prospect of automation fuelling inequality and political division across the country.
Mansfield had the highest vote to leave the European Union out of any place in the study, at 70%, and returned its first Conservative MP since 1923 at last year’s general election, when Ben Bradley replaced Labour MP Sir Alan Meale, who served the constituency for 30 years.
Bradley, who apologised last week for comments he made online in 2012 where he suggested unemployed people should opt for vasectomies, said education was his biggest priority for the area – to help people exploit technology and build up skills in the workforce.
“It’s vital that places like Mansfield, where automation could have a big impact, are the focus for skills and investment in education,” he said.
Mansfield district council said it had made good progress in recent years, including seeing Linney take a new three-storey office block that has supported 60 new jobs.
“It is exciting times for Mansfield and the next few years will demonstrate this,” the council added.