Levelling up has become the watchword for Boris Johnson’s political agenda. It has been used as an umbrella term for investment across the country where growth has traditionally been slower than that in the South East and London.
Its focus, however, has overwhelmingly been for sectors such as manufacturing. We have seen dozens of pictures of the Prime Minister in a hardhat and fluorescent vest in support of his plan to invest in the whole country. Financial services are too often seen as the preserve of wealthy London and has, as a result, fallen by the wayside of Downing Street’s plans.
It’s true: financial services contribute more than 400,000 jobs to the capital, generating opportunity for its residents, many of whom may be from privileged backgrounds. But this is not a fair reflection of the industry across Britain, nor of where it is going.
We have seen regional hubs thrive in places such as Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, and Edinburgh and the momentum behind financial services outside of London has continued to build. In 2018, HSBC announced it would move its HQ from London to Birmingham, while recently Goldman Sachs announced it would open offices outside of its UK base in the capital and expand into the West Midlands too.
As many as two thirds of all financial and related professional services jobs are now based outside of the capital, according to industry body TheCityUK. Many of these businesses have regional offices for nationwide companies and challenger banks are increasingly looking outside of London to build their businesses there.
With the UK’s advantage in professional services, there is a wealth of prosperity to be gained from using the power of financial services to reach people in areas which have seen it as the remit of the wealthy.
The pandemic and home working have provided further opportunity for financial services to expand beyond London and attract a more diverse range of talent. Many roles within the industry are specialised and in recent months skill shortages have begun to emerge. To help avoid a war on talent, where employers compete to attract a limited pool of qualified candidates, businesses should look further afield and find the best applicant, regardless of where they are based in the UK.
If financial services companies continue to embrace new working practices, there will be a more dynamic workforce which is not tied to a specific location. This is not to take away from the power of London, but to build on it. In many ways, it is the perfect industry to facilitate levelling up by combining the magnetic pull of the financial services industry in London, with the diversity of talent within the UK.
Within the financial services industry, 32 per cent have reduced their office space and 42 per cent will change employees’ working hours to support flexible working. This can help become the bedrock of increased social mobility, to enable those who may not have had the chance or desire to move to London and dip their toe in the pool to harvest the same opportunities.
Financial services has all the foundations in place to act as the vanguard of the Government’s levelling up programme. Helped along by the move to increase flexible and hybrid ways of working, the industry is helping to generate more opportunity for careers beyond the confines of the capital.