UK regions

Winning public sector business in the regions needs a local presence

By: SA Mathieson
Published: Saturday, August 16, 2014 - 14:59 GMT Jump to Comments

The public sector market in the English north and midlands differs from that in the south and east. Suppliers will need a physical presence in the marketplace to succeed.

Regardless of next month’s independence vote, canny public sector suppliers already treat Scotland as another country. While the differences are not as great, there is a similar and strengthening case for treating the north and Midlands of England differently to the south and east.

Public sector organisations in the north and Midlands – those in the five government regions above a wiggly line running from the Wash to the Severn – tend to have a higher status than those in the south and east. They are often the most important employers in their localities, and as a result, many focus on supporting local employment. Councils in London may be relaxed about a supplier moving back office work to the north of England; a northern council may well insist the work stays in the area, and that the supplier brings in more on top.

BT shows how this can be done. In 2008, to gain a 10-year outsourcing deal with South Tyneside Council, it agreed to keep the council’s 450 jobs in South Shields, and create new ones on top; after four years it and its partners had created 559 such jobs. Last year it negotiated a similar deal with Cornwall Council for telehealth work (in economic terms if not geographic ones, England’s most southerly county is an honorary part of the north).

Increasingly, the public sector in the north is speaking with a single voice. Earlier this month, the leaders of Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield published a ‘One North’ transport proposal. This would link four of their cities through a new high-speed train line across the Pennines, as well as faster links to Newcastle and Manchester Airport. The cities argue that this would also spread the benefits of the HS2 north-south line.

Rather than competing, the five neighbouring cities want to work as a single economic unit, with goods and people moving between them with relative ease, as happens in the Randstad cities of the Netherlands and the Rhein and Ruhr valleys of Germany. The concept has the support of chancellor George Osborne, who represents the northern constituency of Tatton in Cheshire.  Suppliers hoping to succeed in the area should be considering ways to support and take advantage of these plans.

As well as making it easier to visit potential clients and network, a representative based in the north or Midlands of England is likely to understand it better. London may be a global city, but many of its people are pretty ignorant of other parts of the UK, with some also believing that London’s economic dominance means that ignorance doesn't matter.

As well as putting off customers from the Midlands and north, such attitudes are potentially costly: council and NHS spending is spread fairly evenly across the UK and more generally several of the big northern and Midland cities have undergone significant economic regeneration over the last decade or so, particularly Manchester and Birmingham.

A firm seeking to serve the UK public sector with an office in or near London should look at Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham for its next one, in some cases even before Scotland. The five government regions that make up the north and Midlands of England are home to 25.3m people, nearly as many as the 28.5m in the four regions in the south and east, and far more than Scotland’s 5.3m. A specific advantage of Birmingham is that it also puts Wales within reach  – another part of the UK with a growing, distinctive identity.

For suppliers Scotland is another country within or without the Union (The Information Daily, June 2014)

BT case study on South Tyneside Council

‘One North’ transport plan for the north of England (PDF)

Birmingham and Manchester could become 'global leaders' with HS2 (The Information Daily, March 2014)

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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