Chippy northerners like me bristle when broadcasters speak airily of the English ‘regions’. Clearly, ‘region’ is far too belittling a noun to bestow on London or the home counties, which are never so described.
My provincial consternation is probably misplaced, however. By any number of socioeconomic indicators, it can be argued that the Greater London of 2018 is effectively its own city-state. The gulf with the UK’s older industrial towns is both immense and growing. That is just a fact.
Up to a point. In the law at least, the picture is more nuanced. At this week’s roundtable, we discuss the renaissance of Manchester, not so long ago a city reeling from the collapse of mid-tier stalwarts Halliwells and Cobbetts, and the capture of Pannone by the ill-fated Slater and Gordon.
In the last few years Manchester has rallied impressively as corporate finance and property have emerged from the doldrums, partially aided by London’s enduring tendency to overheat. In 2017 law firms accounted for 13% of office takeup in Manchester, higher than any other UK city and over double the figure for central London.
Magic circle firm Freshfields has opened a legal services centre there (well, in Salford actually – technically a different city). Browne Jacobson this year pledged to double its Manchester workforce; while global outfit Squire Patton Boggs said it would move in next door to Browne at the rapidly expanding legal services hub No 1 Spinningfields.
In terms of bums on seats – and with apologies to Birmingham, Leeds and Bristol – Manchester would seem to be far and away the country’s second legal city. And it is a city getting younger, as millennial professionals pour in to take advantage of inexpensive housing. The price gap is narrowing a little, but at £491,200 the average London abode still costs three times more than its Greater Manchester equivalent.
The Manchester Evening News crowed this month about a ‘brain drain’ from London to the north-west. As the capital continues to price out many under-40s, will the trickle turn into a flood?