The reasons why Birmingham’s attracting professionals away from London

Birmingham’s rising salaries, low living costs and quantity of major global firms are persuading more professionals to start and develop their careers in the UK’s second city rather than London.

That’s the opinion of a major national recruitment firm based on comparative research – and the views have been supported by top business, finance and legal professionals living and working in Birmingham.

Meanwhile, the Office of National Statistics has also reported that Birmingham attracts more people from London than it loses, with a net import figure of 1,230 in 2016 and 660 in 2017.

Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV-Library, said:

“Birmingham’s economy is currently booming and there are financial benefits of working in the city, making it a great location to seek employment.

“According to our research, advertised salaries in Birmingham rose by 9.9% in August 2018 compared to last year, nearly three times the rate of salary growth in London, which only saw a 3.8% increase in August.

“A further study found that while Londoners pay 37.1% of their monthly salary on living costs, workers in Birmingham only spend 18.2% of their wages, making professionals in this city better off financially than those in the capital.

“Another recent piece of research found that Londoners spend a staggering £425 a month on work-related expenses, such as lunch and commuting, while professionals in Birmingham spend just under half of this at £210 per month.”

Yet for employers, Greater Birmingham remains an affordable option when compared with London. Average rental prices for grade A office space in Birmingham is £32.50 – less than half of London’s £70 average.

Leading professionals in Birmingham who agree with the analysis include Alex Bishop, a partner at law firm Shoosmiths, who chose to build her career in the city.

After university, Ms Bishop started a training contract with a local Birmingham law firm called Needham & James. The company merged with Dibb Lupton Broomhead which went on to become DLA Piper – one of the world’s largest law firms.

She said:

“I had no need to move to London as I was working on big ticket cases and was very much involved from the start. A number of my law school friends at big firms in London were telling me they were stuck in data rooms or churning through disclosure for most of their training contracts, and admitted they were jealous.”

Ms Bishop is now deputy head of Shoosmiths’ Birmingham office, also serving as national head of the company’s commercial litigation team with staff across the country.

She added:

“Shoosmiths has become one of the largest legal employers in Birmingham, and I’ve had greater opportunity to learn, develop and challenge myself here than I would have elsewhere.

“We’re close enough to London to make litigating for London clients or in London courts easily achievable – and with a lower cost base. We have the quality, talent, opportunity and geography that makes Greater Birmingham the obvious choice.”

Russell Hill, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs restructuring and insolvency department in Birmingham, proudly calls himself a “born and bred Brummie”. He left school at 16 to become an office junior in a local law firm while taking legal studies via evening and weekend classes.

After completing his studies at the University of Law in Birmingham he trained as a chartered legal executive at what was then Lee Crowder and is now DWF.

Mr Hill moved to Pinsent Masons and then Eversheds for nearly 10 years, progressing from legal executive to principal associate before becoming a solicitor. He moved to Squire Patton Boggs in 2015, winning the legal category in the Birmingham Young Professional Awards in 2016.

He said:

“My own journey is a perfect example of what you can achieve in Greater Birmingham. I have lived, studied and worked here my whole life.

“I started out as an office junior making the tea twice a day for the lawyers. I’m now a partner in one of the biggest law firms in the world and can count John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives under President Obama, as one of my colleagues.

“I’ve worked for some of the top law firms in the country on some huge transactions for major clients like KPMG, PWC, EY, Barclays Bank, HSBC Bank and Lloyds Bank. Greater Birmingham has given me everything I could need in my career. Why would I need to go elsewhere?”

Another lawyer happy in Greater Birmingham is Victoria Ball, a legal director at DLA Piper. She was born in Solihull, also completing her legal studies at Birmingham’s University of Law.

Ms Ball first worked as a paralegal at Putsmans – now part of Shakespeare Martineau – and then Eversheds before joining Pinsent Masons as a trainee solicitor.

She said:

“I was committed to training in Birmingham and I was able to secure quality paralegal work that ultimately helped me get the contract I wanted. I trained at a top 15 international law firm and, in 2015 after an in-house legal role, I joined Trowers & Hamlins’ construction team in Birmingham.

“I set about building my profile and network and found the Birmingham business community absolutely thriving. The breadth of opportunities to connect within the BPFS sector and the property and construction sector allowed me to quickly build a meaningful network.”

After more than three years with Trowers, Ms Ball has now joined DLA Piper as a legal director, with the job of growing its construction and engineering practice in Birmingham.  

She added:

“Birmingham has always offered me career opportunities, and I’ve always known I could get access to quality work, interesting projects and the opportunity to work for clients central to the region’s regeneration.

“Also, Birmingham has a genuine lifestyle offering to match work opportunities, which wasn’t always the case. There are vibrant communities to live in with great food, drink and leisure options – and so many events and festivals all year round.

“And there’s more collective optimism, enthusiasm and – importantly – pride in Greater Birmingham, where you can make a difference because there are more platforms and opportunities.

“You don’t need to look to the capital to find top quality lawyers, accountants, architects or any other professional advisor. They are here, they know the region and are therefore best-placed to advise anyone considering inward investment here.”

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