On the improbability of identifying idealised spatial labour markets : an analytical approach using Scottish evidence
The local labour market has gained increased importance in the UK in recent years, as a focus
for policy formulation and implementation. However, the local labour market is often illdefined
in spatial terms, with the defmition being implicit rather than explicit, or standard
administrative areas are used without any reasoned justification. Alternatively, within the UK,
standard pre-defined areas, most usually official travel-to-work-areas (TTWAs) , are adopted as
suitable proxies for local labour market areas. Recent concerns have been raised in the UK
regarding the validity of this approach in many cases, and this was a feature of the 1998 review
of the TrW As within the UK.
To counter these diverse approaches, with the consequent implications for the efficacy of
spatially targeted labour market policies, a definition of idealised spatial labour market areas is
constructed. Further to this, a large-scale empirical analysis of commuting information from the
Scottish results of the 1991 Census of Population is undertaken, to test whether idealised spatial
labour markets can be identified for distinct occupational groups, disaggregated by gender.
The results of the analysis confirm the improbability of achieving idealised spatial labour
market definitions using commuting data. However, it is suggested that introducing a common
metric for the definition of spatial labour markets should have a beneficial effect in terms of
transparency of analysis and consistency of approach. Such a metric would make explicit the
suitability of an area for consideration as a spatial labour market, and would include notions
both of self-containment and internal coherence. It is contended that such an approach would be
more flexible than the current approach using standard areas. It also has the potential to
incorporate separate analyses for different gender, occupational groups, ethnicity or other
personal characteristics, whilst still retaining many of the key concepts and measures which
underpinned the development of TTWAs.