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Robot invasion will widen U.K.'s North-South economic divide

(Bloomberg) -- The increased use of automation in the U.K. could exacerbate the economic divide between the north and south of the country, according to a report by the Centre for Cities.

The think tank said that one-in-five existing jobs in British cities -- about 3.6 million in total -- could be displaced by 2030 because of automation and globalization. Retail, customer service roles and warehouse jobs are among the most at risk.

The impact won’t be evenly distributed across geographical locations either. Around 18 percent of jobs are under threat in southern cities, compared with a 23 percent average elsewhere in the country. It said the cities least exposed to losing jobs are also home to larger shares of high-skilled private-sector workers.

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Pedestrians look at the The Keel Line memorial, built to remember Sunderland's shipping industry in Sunderland, U.K. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The most at risk are Mansfield, Sunderland and Wakefield, with 29 percent of jobs at risk. The report notes that weekly earnings here are lower than the national average and residents voted in favor of Brexit by as much as 70 percent in the 2016 referendum on EU membership.

The lowest risks are seen in Oxford and Cambridge, at 13 percent, while London is at 16 percent. Earnings in all three are well above the national average.

For example, the Centre for Cities forecasts that almost half the job creation in Cambridge over the next decade will be in high-skilled areas. The equivalent figure in Mansfield and Sunderland is 10 percent.

“This growing reliance on low-skilled private-sector jobs means that the gulf in living standards and wages between struggling Northern and Midlands cities, and wealthier places in the south, will continue to widen in the coming decades,” the think tank said.