North versus South civil war for talent?
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union highlighted deep divisions in the country. Perhaps most notably ‘North’ versus ‘South’. There seemed a direct correlation between voter disillusionment with the establishment and distance from London (and by implication Brussels) until perhaps the River Tweed.
Centre for Cities’ recent report Competing with the continent: how UK cities compare with their European counterparts identified low skills, low productivity and a limited local knowledge economy as major barriers for growth and competitiveness in many UK cities, particularly in the North. It comes at a time when many might argue that the concept of the Northern Powerhouse is stalling at best, disappearing altogether from the lexicon of the new government at worst.
Staffing demand has always been lower in the North than London and the South East with some exceptions such as professional services or niche manufacturing sectors. The buoyant legal and financial services economy in Leeds or MediaCityUK in Salford are obvious exceptions, but post-Brexit indecision on investment decisions potentially threaten such regional employment hotspots.
Northern local authorities have for many years felt the disproportionately negative effects of lower growth, lower tax receipts, less housing development, poor rail infrastructure and in many places multi-generational worklessness, racial tension and poverty. The job losses that might yet come might make for a difficult time for councils in the North already struggling to meet current service demands.
These differences between different parts of the country have, and will continue to be, felt in the war for talent not just across the local government sector but across public service as a whole. Our recent work with the New Local Government Network argues the need for collaborative place-based leaders who can act as ‘systems translators’ across government, care, health, education and the not-for-profit sectors to drive the new leadership behaviours that will be needed for future success and growth. This may well be felt more keenly in the North than the South.
This idea fits well with other work that has been done on the ‘future public servant’ and a call for action now to start pipelining talent across the whole public sector. There appears a clear demand more than ever in the regions for a higher stock of human capital to boost productivity. All public institutions have a role to play in this as well as private sector organisations, particularly recruiters.
Despite the desire of some to distance the UK from Europe it seems ironic that the potential for growth and stability will likely come from how competitive Great Britain is on the global stage. This will undoubtedly be felt in a regional town or city more keenly than in London. In this international war for talent, trade and investment our great Northern cities must fight to attract skilled workers from the Capital and overseas as well as further develop their local knowledge base and support those looking to up-skill. As always, local government will be the first on the battlefield.
This article was first published in the Municipal Journal