PwC has recently ranked Birmingham as the sixth-best city in Europe for investment — ahead of London. For most people, the UK’s second largest city is still associated with poor post-war planning, a declining industrial base and a huge concrete ring road; however, recent developments show that this could not be further from the truth.
An influx of large businesses and commerce has boosted the economy; HSBC announced a few months ago that it is to move its head office for its retail and business lending operation, and 1,000 of its staff, from London to Birmingham. Deutsche Bank has also expanded its operations in Birmingham: it now has 1,500 people based there. The economy for the greater Birmingham sub-region grew by 2.5 per cent – the best of all the ten ‘core cities’. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in the latest sub-regional economic output figures for 2013 that the economy grew by 2.5 per cent, above the national figure of 1.6 per cent.
It seems that businesses are beginning to realise the benefits of the once flagging city – including how close Birmingham is to the capital (100 miles) and how much cheaper it is to set up shop outside London. The train to the capital currently takes around 1 and a half hours; however, if HS2 goes ahead — and note that its headquarters is located in Birmingham — you will be able to travel from London to Birmingham in 49 minutes. The airport has been extended and now offers direct flights to China – the only ones outside London. Birmingham is perfectly situated for business – It is within two hours of most other major UK cities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Manchester and Leeds and 90% of the UK’s population lies within a four-hour radius.
The universities are working together to put a “strong sales pitch” to students and employers; and since 2010, Birmingham’s 20-year Big City Plan has produced a pretty good infrastructure programme. Birmingham also has a strong cultural and retail scene; since the Bull Ring was built in 2003, Birmingham was ranked third out of UK cities for retail after London and Glasgow. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), and the renowned Birmingham Royal Ballet are based there, and several leading art galleries and theatres; it also has the Highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in England, after London.
What was once a declining industrial town has undergone a transformation – and at a time when people and businesses are being priced out of London by spiralling prices, it appears to be one to watch.
By Miranda Wadham