A £500 million fund should be set up to help make "out of date" city centres more attractive to businesses, according to a new report.
Research group Centre for Cities said mid-sized cities and the Government should work together to launch a new investment drive to help create jobs.
The report, Hidden Potential, supported by Sunderland City Council and PwC, said that economic growth in some UK mid-sized cities was being restricted by the state of their city centres.
Cities like Sunderland, Preston, Derby and Wakefield could use the fund to make improvements for businesses, it was suggested.
Preston, for example, saw strong private sector jobs growth of more than 16% between 1998 to 2008, yet the city centre's private sector jobs base declined by almost 3%, while in Sunderland, of 105 businesses that moved into the city between 1998 and 2008, just three moved to the city centre.
Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities said: "City centres are likely to become ever more important for city growth in future and as such it is crucial that the UK has a policy to address this issue, but weak city centres are holding back growth in the UK.
"In order to provide the city centre business environment which modern businesses need to thrive and to create the jobs that the UK economy needs, the think-tank advises that a new investment fund should be established.
"This fund should be set at a minimum of £500 million and make more effective use of existing pots of public sector money as well as drawing in funding and expertise from the private sector."
A Business Department spokesman said: "The Government is already making significant progress in providing the tools and assistance cities require to help them become engines for growth.
"Through local civil and business leadership, and bespoke 'city deals', a package can be drawn up that reflects each city's individual needs, which might be to address a skills shortage or focus support on a particular sector, and will ensure they thrive."