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A Less London-Centric UK Is Possible - Here's How It Starts

03/07/2017 16:06
Anthony Devlin/PA Archive

Since I last wrote on this blog, Theresa May has returned to 10 Downing Street in a startling result in June's snap election. Though it's not with the increased majority she had set out to gain, and despite the challenges of several terrorist incidents and the Grenfell disaster in the UK, there's no denying that the great test of her leadership still lies ahead: Brexit.

Much has been said of what Brexit means for the wider European economy, but the sweat really started to run cold on speculators' brows when rumours began to circulate earlier this year that major banks were planning to shift operations out of the UK. Whispers that London will lose its prestige naturally follow. Despite this, though a period of great ambiguity and nail-biting uncertainty awaits the British, politicians should begin to treat Brexit as an opportunity to address the UK's deep-seated social problems.

Central London is the richest single area in Europe. By definition, it is in London that people find opportunity - the capital has become synonymous with big business and big banks. By contrast, the top five areas of the UK that voted Leave were all coastal communities, all which face higher levels of marginalisation, lower wages and higher unemployment than other parts of the country. It's not so much that a great crisis of inequality is brewing in the UK - rather, that the crisis has bubbled up and spilled over the sides of the cauldron.

Making the UK less London-centric is not an easy task and will take decades to achieve. Yet if there is to be a starting point, it can begin now. A first step is for politicians to openly address the issue. Whilst they don't, nationalist elements like UKIP, whose former leader Paul Nuttall often blasted the 'London-centric snobbery' of the UK, will sweep up despondent voters with nowhere else to turn. With this step, politicians should also acknowledge the great difficulties that residents of the UK's 'forgotten' communities face - particularly when it comes to employment.

New survey data commissioned by Jobrapido found that 35% of UK jobseekers claimed London would be the city they would relocate to in order to get their dream job, with Manchester and Edinburgh being distant second and third preferences, respectively at 11% and 6%. Depressingly, a considerable 16% of respondents would move cities just to find any work.

Until the UK begins to move toward a decentralized structure, we're going to see more and more jobseekers leave familiar environments for the sole purpose of finding employment - companies and the government must work together to ensure job opportunities are widespread and lead to meaningful and progressive careers. Until this concerted effort begins, the great chasm between the London 'elite' and those outside the capital will become harder, and one day impossible, to cross.

Once an open dialogue begins on the starkness of inequality of employment opportunity in the UK, solutions can be sought. Brexit presents an opportunity for a new industrial strategy that works for the many communities of the UK that feel powerless. Investing in production sectors more widely distributed across UK regions and establishing regional sources of finance should be a top priority for rebalancing the employment market - but it must begin now.

Accusations of London-centrism are typically sidestepped by Londoners as a petty example of parochial sour grapes. The onus is now on the capital to face the problem head on and begin to create an economic and jobs market that works for the whole country.

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