Foreign investment in UK suffering from London-centric focus

Britain’s other cities are as attractive to overseas investors as London, according to new research

Foreign investment in UK suffering from London-centric focus

London is oft regarded as something akin to the Holy Grail of a person’s professional career. A job and life ‘in the city’ is seen in many quarters as a clear-cut sign that an individual has ‘made it’. And whilst that dream job may not yet be secured, simply getting one foot on the London job ladder represents a significant step in the right direction. Of course, it is difficult to overlook the fact that the headquarters of some of the UK’s largest firms are located in the Big Smoke. Nor can one ignore the hive of tech start-up activity taking hold in Silicon Roundabout, itself a stone’s throw from the some of the world’s leading financial players, who have established bases in the City of London. 

Nevertheless, it appears that this fascination with London could come at a cost to the country as a whole, if new research from polling and research agency ComRes is anything to go by. Its survey of overseas firms found one in four (28%) naming the UK’s London-centric economy as one of the biggest threats to continued investment in Blighty. And if proof was needed that a London-centric economy is what we have, the 37% of all foreign direct investment (FDI) that was ploughed in the city last year should do the trick nicely. 

Now, there is an obvious question to ask at this juncture: why is an economy focused largely on the nation’s capital so much of a problem? Well, it is relatively common knowledge that living in London ain’t cheap, nor is its scope for expansion without limits. It will come as no surprise to learn therefore that 34% of those surveyed by ComRes cited high property costs and lack of availability as one of their main concerns. 

What, then, is the alternative to the current approach? 

A decent place to start is a realisation that the UK has a number of other cities, many of which have a very respectable international standing. Needless to say, ComRes goes on to reveal that 60% of respondents see the country’s regional cities as strong contenders to London’s crown on the inward investment front. Specifically, according to the report, investors rank local support to get their business up and running quickly (76%), access to talent and relevant skills (72%) and cost (70%) as crucial factors in deciding where to locate. Moreover, and somewhat intriguingly, almost three quarters (74%) ranked assistance with planning and red tape as the most important element of local support packages offered by destinations, rating it more highly than financial grants.

We’d certainly be the first to champion the other jewels in our country’s crown. In recent months, we’ve laid bare Bristol’s rebel spirit, which has shone through in its innovative business environment, banged the drum for the Birmingham start-up scene and uncovered the rich pool of talent on offer north of the border in Edinburgh, and beyond. 

“Government must listen to what investors are telling us: there is no ‘one size fits all’ and London is not the only place for foreign investors to flourish,” said Neil Rami, chief executive of Business Birmingham, the city’s inward investment agency. “

Fast-tracking plans for more economic autonomy, spreading regeneration funds and ensuring major infrastructure projects like HS2 are delivered, will help us attract more investors and rebalance the economy away from a quickly overheating capital.”

It isn’t just London that should be calling, that’s for sure. 

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod

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