18 months ago I made the decision to move to Cardiff from London.
I decided to leave London for several reasons but the primary motivation (I suspect, to no-one’s surprise) is because of the cost of living. I freely admit that I want to be able to afford to buy a home somewhere and given that London is nigh on impossible for most people, I’ve ‘upped-sticks’ and moved west/crossed the border.
Over the years, I have heard several complaints of how the charity sector is so ‘London centric’. As a typical ‘adopted’ Londoner, I have tended to jump to the defence of the City. Still, having now made the move myself, I thought I’d jot down some of the potential challenges that charities may face if they continue to stay headquartered in London.
Is there potential for a brain drain?
Whilst I hate comparing charities to the private sector, when it comes to salaries, the fact is that junior jobs in charities are usually paid at lower rates compared to their private sector equivalents. Charities headquartered ‘in’ London also face the additional competitive disadvantage that they can, for the most part, only access talent from within the City, given that the vast majority of junior staff cannot afford (and don’t want) to commute into London. The net impact is threefold. 1) Bright young things may be disinclined to join charities in London in the first place, preferring a higher paid role in another sector; 2) if they do join, then despite their best endeavours and instincts, cost of living pressures may persuade them to leave for a higher paid role elsewhere in London; and 3) those cost of living pressures and aspirations to get their foot on the rung of the greasy property ladder (a bit like me, I suppose) may in fact cause them to quit London altogether.
Similarly, charities based just outside London and headquartered in the commuter belts face the reverse problem. The ‘bright lights’ of London tends to attract (initially at least) most of the talent, but people in London typically cannot afford to commute ‘out’ of London. As an example, I know for sure that charities based in Woking, essentially have a 180 degree capture area for talent – mostly to the south of Woking.
Or is there an ignorance of available talent elsewhere?
On the flipside though, there is an argument that I firmly believe in. Talent exists everywhere. No matter where you go, you will find people who can do the jobs you need; you’ll cut your salary bill because the national average outside of London is lower than within it; and, if you are a big enough brand as a charity, you will attract people to come and work with you. You may need to re-think your person specifications a little, and think a bit laterally – but the talent is there.
Is there a sector image problem?
On numerous occasions, I have been asked why some charities seem to spend lots of donor money on fancy corporate offices in London. Based on my own experience, the majority I have been to tend, in the main, to be quite small, cramped, not ‘flash corporate’, and often people share the kitchen with the photocopying room. However, there is, arguably, an issue with some of the ‘big’ charities, who do typically have rather nice/smart offices and it ‘may’ be that this is at variance the perceived ‘hair shirt’ style that we are told by the media that the public expects of charities.
Personally, however, I am not totally persuaded by this view of what the public thinks, and I see no reason why working conditions, including offices, should not be decent for charity staff. Still, if necessary, why not have a ‘fancy’ office elsewhere, outside of London? You’ll still probably make huge reductions on your rent bill and you won’t have the risk of turning the photocopier on when you reach down to get the milk.
Can we change the way we use our staff?
The only sensible argument I have heard for staying in London is that if you are a policy and campaigning charity then you need Westminster on your doorstep, which, I think is fair enough. But, I would still push for satellite offices to be established. Why not move 95% of your organisation away from London and then just hire the desks you need so that your campaigning team can do the work they need to? After all, the sector is such a big advocate for digital, so let’s encompass digital and ‘being mobile’ into the way we manage our staff. And, of course, you can consider policies to reduce desk space and therefore rental costs by using ICT properly to allow people to work from home or on the go.
Is now the right time to move?
All the current talk is about a ‘northern powerhouse’ and city devolution – so now could be exactly the right time to move. Cities will increasingly compete with each other much more intensely than they do now to attract new organisations – and some even offer money into helping enterprises to relocate. It would seem stupid not to take advantage of these offers – as well as the ability to access a broader range of more stable talent.
So, there you go. As I promised, some food for thought.
Please do share this blog tagging @Leonjward
Also, the above beach is in Wales, just over a 1.5 hours’ drive from Cardiff. What are you waiting for?