Is the UK successfully building business hubs outside of London?
London is the capital of the UK. That may seem like an obvious statement, because it is the capital city, but being a ‘capital’ covers much more than just the location of a government office, or a larger circle on a map.
London is thought of as the place to pursue a career, the place you need to be to get your dream job. It is thought of as a cosmopolitan, touristic, gastronomic capital, and the biggest business hub of the UK. This has all made London pretty unaffordable to live in, and created an imbalance in the wider country, in terms of opportunities for living and working. Various big plans and investments have been discussed to diversify access, cost of living and job opportunities across the UK. Looking to the North and the Midlands, how well has the country really done to encourage and build business hubs outside of London?
Known as the powerhouse of the North, Manchester is a big city, home to globally known football stadiums, cuisine from across the world, and business hubs such as MediaCity. The site was created after the BBC started to relocate jobs up north in 2004. Today, MediaCity boasts “an eclectic and exciting mix of over 250 businesses… from globally celebrated brands to up-and-coming names”. ITV, BBC, Ericsson and Kellogg’s are all based within the MediaCity grounds, and the places invites people to their events, workspaces and eateries to keep things open and attract new talent.
CenterForCities in 2017 argued that as good as this business hub is, it has has “minimal impact for employment in Greater Manchester”. Though the BBC’s move to Salford meant MediaCity gained 4,600 new jobs between 2011 and 2016, more than a third of the new jobs at MediaCity were in businesses already based in other areas of Greater Manchester in 2011. The 2011 relocation of the BBC promised 15,000 new jobs to the wider region of Manchester, but in reality “very few firms followed the BBC’s lead in relocating to Salford”.
Though employment moved from around Greater Manchester to MediaCity, this one hub alone has not encouraged enough relocation of big business to even the playing field between London and the North. Plus, the amount of jobs in actuality do not compare to those predicted by the venture.
This East Midlands city is another with a few big companies to show off. Boots still retains its home in the Robin Hood County, and employs around 6,000 people there. There are many other companies with roots in Nottingham, such as Buzz Bingo, an online bingo site which has headquarters in this city, and the successful theme park chain Center Parcs, which built its first park in Sherwood Forest in 1987. Nottingham’s industry is certainly not just focussed on one sector, which may be advantageous for growth, compared to the narrow nature of MediaCity. Yet similar to Manchester, Nottingham may soon receive investment for a new business hub… this time in technology.
Accelerate Nottingham is an ambitious, multi-million pound which crossed its fingers for the creation of “200 new jobs in the city“. It houses Blenheim Chalcot, a startup-scaling company, alongside co-working spaces, with a focus on technology. This concept is essentially meant to provide office and collaborative spaces to attract tech businesses. The tech experts using this space as a base will lend their skills to the new businesses, and in turn help them to grow. Since it was only established since 2017, it is difficult to say how many tech jobs the venture has brought about. However, it is up and running and provides startups in Nottingham with a place to build their business.
The fact that investment is being made in these forward-thinking models, pushing innovation to get off the ground, is a positive sign for the diversification of business and creation of new hubs outside of London. However, these are the efforts of only a few influential players, namely the BBC and Blenheim Chalcot. Instead of relying on the risks of private companies, perhaps there need to be more incentives in place to start businesses in the wider country, to balance out the many positives of working in central London.