What does the North v South divide mean for business?

“No, never heard of it. Where’s that?” was the typical response upon telling my new colleagues where I’d moved from when starting my new job in Guildford. Maybe Hartlepool itself needs better PR? I’ve heard rumours that there’s a pretty good PR firm in the town…

In early 2016, I made the switch from the North to the South purely for work. It was a job I wanted but the only department offices they had were in Guildford, Cologne, Vancouver and Sydney – to name a few. But as nice as the latter sounds, it was going to have to be the 282 mile journey South to Guildford.

It may be a cliché but it is so much cheaper up North

When I moved down South, I found that my new life was going to be expensive but I knew what I was getting myself into, I worked that out even before I even moved. Getting a return train, even with a railcard and in advance, can set you back over £100 and that’s not even considering staying overnight in a hotel before the interview. That’s a fairly high price to pay, should you not even get the job.

Fortunately, I did and while living like a real life Alan Partridge in a B&B, I managed to find myself a flat – albeit at a high price. I won’t disclose figures but I’m paying far, far less in rent for a far more spacious flat in Sunderland, so you’ve got to wonder what I could’ve got for the same money in the North-East. Speaking to one or two friends of mine who also moved to London for work, I certainly wasn’t alone in losing money in the relocation process.

This has to be one of the biggest downsides for businesses based in the South. Due to the high cost of living businesses need to offer higher wages to their employees. According to the BBC, as of May 2018, the highest average full time wage comes unsurprisingly from London at £727. Nearby towns Reading and Crawley sit just behind in second and third respectively. Middlesbrough’s average on the other hand is is £477 – that’s a difference of £250, and Sunderland’s average is only slightly more at £484.

If more large corporations were to relocate to the North it would help prevent young graduates from the region taking on the pricey job of relocating. Saying that I did notice that on the office floor in Guildford I was the one from the furthest North, which suggests that maybe not as many people are feeling the need to make the shift as there once was. “Yeah, you don’t sound like you’re from around here,” which is fair enough, I didn’t exactly gain a Surrey accent.

Another cliché coming up, but it is brutally honest to say that the people up North are far more friendly and chatty.

There were sometimes scenarios where I was, where you’d work in silence for hours, unless someone mentioned if you fancied getting a drink. Skype was our place’s preferred method of communication, which is fair enough when you’re talking (sorry, typing) to someone on another floor but people who were sat opposite to you would send you a short message to confirm something which I thought was a bit odd!

EE have seen the benefit of moving up North. In 2017, they created an additional 250 jobs at their call centre in Darlington. They put down one of the reasons as that people prefer hearing the North-East accent on the phone, which is why the company initially re-shored their services from abroad. This is as well as the companies’ CEO praising the positive personalities, attitude and digital skills that he found in the North-East. Those could also be seen as the reason as to why big firms such as Npower, EDF Energy and Barclays all have call centres based in the North-East.

Being Northern does great things for your reputation

Some businesses build their brand based on their location to great effect. This is because it gives off a sense of community and looks as though they’re proud of their work within the area, allowing for a better connection between them and their location consumers and all round better reputation.

One such company is broadband provider Plusnet who are based in Sheffield. They launched their marketing campaign around being from Yorkshire. Their adverts have been based around northern stereotypes and they have their strapline as “good honest broadband from Yorkshire”, as well as having sponsored the Yorkshire Marathon and Sheffield Wednesday FC.

Warburtons have used their Lancashire roots to good effect in recent adverts. They have featured in both Bolton and Blackburn with one ad seeing Bolton comic Peter Kay having a slice of the action. The advert, parodying Pride and Prejudice, raises a toast to Kay’s work (making garlic bread and John Smith’s references) as well as reaffirming Warburton’s stance as a family brand. The advert went onto receive positive feedback.

Yet the issues the North faces are clear…

The South undoubtedly gets more attention

It’s no secret that there’s significantly more investment made down south. A study in 2017 showed that more than half of UK investment in transport is in London; in 2016-17 the North-East received the lowest amount of money for transport spending, after Yorkshire and the Humber. Even more recently is the plans to build a third runway at Heathrow airport, leaving behind Durham Tees Valley airport and Newcastle Airport.

Speaking of being left behind, just look at Teesport. It’s the deepest port in the UK and has the advantages of good transport links with a nearby airport and main roads, along with the cheap land around it. Despite this, it isn’t currently being fully utilised showing that is an untapped market. The busiest container port in the UK is The Port of Felixstowe, in Suffolk, which deals with 42% of Britain’s containerised trade. The busiest cruise terminal in the UK, is also down south, at the Port of Southampton.

Is the tide starting to change?

In June 2018, Tees Valley Combined Authority agreed £30.5million in funding for adult education in the region. This is to try and bring new jobs to the area through training people to fill these roles with local businesses and therefore, possibly stop trained people relocating to the South. A win-win.

I’m graduating from a Master’s degree later this year (touch wood!) and while I’m keeping my options open, as you never know what your personal situation will be (I did consider moving abroad after graduating from my undergrad degree and it’s something I’m still considering), it’s fair to say that I’m happy being back in the North-East.

Having lived both up North and down South, there’s nothing to suggest that it’s grim up North but as it stands the South is still winning hands down for its business opportunities. London is still seen as the place to be, and a big fear for businesses may be missing out by not having a base amongst the big city lights. But with the BBC’s MediaCity moving to Salford and with plans for Channel 4 to move its offices out of London, either up North or in to Scotland, hopefully the tide will begin to turn.

And, on a final note, I noticed in Guildford that the 24 hour Subway had a bouncer outside during the night. The 24 hour Greggs in Newcastle, on the other hand, has a bouncer and if that doesn’t sum up the North/South divide then I don’t know what will!