David Leen discusses the merits of moving business outside of London, but highlights the need for improved infrastructure to support this.
So said Samuel Johnson, and it’s also the premise of a book that my wife gave me at Christmas – that you can fill a whole year with things to do in our nation’s capital. There’s no argument that it’s a wonderful place to spend your evenings, weekends away and time with the family, but what about it as a work place?
When Mark Davies and I set up Grovelands in 2009 we were keen to have a lower cost office base, but one with great communication links to the rest of the UK and, for us, Brighton is a superb location with its proximity to London, M25, Gatwick and mainline stations. It has worked fantastically well – we can get pretty much anywhere easily via train, plane, and car. We have great universities locally to attract the best graduates, and the work/life balance is second to none with most Grovelanders walking or cycling to our offices, (which, yes, do have sea views).
However a few years ago it became obvious that to support our work, particularly in the FS sector, we needed a London base. This became a bit of a quandary, as both Mark and I knew from experience that a London office can grow like topsy and you can end up with a fragmented, disparate set-up. So we invested in getting an office on London Wall but really as a ‘drop-in’ centre for staff to use, to interview candidates, hold seminars and briefings, and meet customers and to that end it has worked brilliantly. We still only have a small permanent headcount in London as we are committed to Brighton as our main HQ.
More recently, we have looked at 3 or 4 potential locations for our next offices, but all bring challenges and feel bigger decisions than London or Brighton ever was.
But what about other firms ?
We have supported a number of large reorganisations for our customers, where they have moved out of London to lower-cost centres in the UK, and in one instance Spain. We can see more Tech and FS firms pushing their operations to non-UK and non-EU destinations and/or keeping their strategic and revenue generating operations in the UK’s top 5 cities, but rarely elsewhere. The rationale has always been that as long as the ability to travel around the UK from the new base is easy they will make the move, otherwise they will sit tight. This is where both government and industry need to be brave in investing in rail, road, air, and broadband/mobile network infrastructure otherwise mobility won’t happen. The recent press on the delayed railway infrastructure upgrades, particularly in the North-West, is disappointing, this, coupled with the on-going debate on additional runways at airports make for grim reading. These projects have long lead-times, often decades and when I look at the Far-East, Australia and other countries, the debate is really is more about we can’t afford not to do this and we need to move fast.
Having great infrastructure, alongside financial incentives will attract inward investment with firms looking at London but also the whole of the UK and make decisions on location less binary.
I hope this and future governments see this and seize the initiative.