Yes, we should move public sector anchors out of London
Today, the Centre for Cities (CfC) issued a new report suggesting that the re-location of the BBC to Salford has had minimal impact on employment across Greater Manchester and that city-regions looking to attract public sector organisations should not overplay the potential benefits. The work is framed by analysis of the types of jobs which have been re-located, the sectors where jobs growth have happened over the last five years, and the scope of displacement of jobs from across wider Greater Manchester.
While it is important to highlight quantitatively the short-term impact of re-location on employment change, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) would argue that any assessment of impact of public sector re-location has to go beyond employment. We would argue that the BBC re-location has brought a whole host of benefits for the direct MediaCity locality, for the City of Salford, and for Greater Manchester including:
1. It has challenged the orthodoxy of centralising of public sector functions in London and the wider South East;
2. It has brought prestige to Greater Manchester and has improved the reputation of Salford as a place which can attract and retain investment;
3. It has brought a whole host of upskilling opportunities for young people in digital skills across Greater Manchester, most notably through the University Technical College at MediaCity;
4. It has created significant opportunities for Greater Manchester based businesses through the supply chain, contributing to their growth and their ability to bid for supply chain opportunities elsewhere;
5. It has contributed to the economic regeneration of Salford with notable physical, social and environmental knock-on effects for the City;
6. It has brought a whole range of cultural benefits for the MediaCity locality including supporting the continued value of the Lowry and Imperial War Museum as cultural assets;
7. It has brought new demographics to Greater Manchester communities and associated benefits through social networks and entrepreneurship;
8. It has brought a new way of portraying voices from across the North as opposed to a London centric media voice;
9. It has enhanced the aspirations of Greater Manchester communities to participate in cultural activities and seek careers in media and digital related industries.
In a grossly overcentralised economy and country such as England, we should not ignore the huge benefits that relocation of public sector anchors can bring.
Whitehall and pillars of English culture are all too often reluctant to change, but the benefits of re-locating public sector assets across the world are well-recognised.
Moving forward, a deeper planning process to re-location is key to realising broader and deeper economic, social and environmental benefits.
Neil McInroy is the Chief Executive of CLES and Matthew Jackson is the Deputy Chief Executive of CLES.