The Great Escape

In March 2020, Rushi Sunak announced plans to move 22,000 civil servants out of central London by 2030. The UK government has now created a new base in Wolverhampton – the first-ever ministerial office outside of London. The relocation aims to ensure policymakers better reflect the whole of the UK population.

The pandemic has shown that relocating policy roles is more sustainable than previously believed. Civil servants do not need to be physically in London to do their job effectively. The office for National Statistics has found the number of Londoners leaving the city has reached a record high. The pandemic has accelerated this exodus; 1.6 million Londoners who have been working away from city during lockdown want to continue doing so.

So, what does this exodus mean for talent attraction?

Increased talent pool

Only 13 per cent of the UK population is in London, but the city is home to two-thirds of policymakers. For many years, London has been known as the ‘brain drain’ with one third of UK graduates moving to the capital. Yet, as more organisations and Government departments move out of the city, this will increase the talent pool of candidates in other regions.

Relocation enables organisations to attract and retain more diverse candidates. Not being based in the capital attracts potential employees who cannot afford to live in London or who might want a better work-life balance. The transition enables public sector organisations in particular to draw on more of the UK’s highly skilled workers.

Economically beneficial

It’s no secret that London is expensive. Moving out of the city is more cost effective for both organisations and employees. Cheaper rent and living expenses make the transition attractive.

The relocation of public sector workers can also stimulate new economic growth in other parts of the country. Indeed this can signal a multiplier effect on the local area, through an increase in employment, greater demand for local housing and other facilities in the area.   In turn this also makes these areas more attractive for other organisations and talent.

Significant disruption

Although there are many benefits, relocation can be costly and disruptive for both employees and employers. Relocation payments, potential redundancies, training and recruitment can all be costs associated with the transition and many employees simply may not want to relocate out of London. When the Office for National Statistics moved from London to Newport in 2005, 90 per cent of its London based staff left the organisation. Replacing an employee can be expensive and impact the productivity and morale of the whole team. It is therefore imperative that any organisations looking to move carefully consider their communications strategy and are open and honest with employees to help encourage buy-in for the transition. As the pandemic has shown, remote working is now a highly viable and popular option, which means there is likely to be more flexibility, even when organisations are relocating.

The government’s aim of the move is to make the culture of the civil service less London-centric and reflect the whole of the UK. This would also be beneficial for other organisations whose main clients are not in the capital. But, to make the transition away from the capital a success, organisations will need to commit to a long-term plan. Relocation needs to involve all employees, not just those lower down the chain. With considered planning, organisations have the potential to create a dynamic regional presence and recruit more diverse talent – a winning scenario for everyone.

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