Giles Searby, chair of Sheffield City Region LEP’s sector group for business, professional and financial services, and partner at law firm hlw Keeble Hawson, explains why the city offers many opportunities for southern law firms to gain competitive advantage and reduce costs by relocating part of their operations there
Sheffield’s economy is holding its own, in no small part because of the hard work and commitment of the city region’s local enterprise partnership (LEP).
Acknowledged as one of the most enterprising and proactive LEPs in the country, it is committed to boosting Sheffield’s productivity and competitiveness through a concerted drive to attract huge inward investment and improve infrastructure, e-connectivity and transport links.
As a result, the mixed commercial ecosystem - which boasts creative, digital and professional and financial service sectors that complement the engineering and advanced manufacturing sectors - is robust and creative.
The country’s fourth-largest city, Sheffield has been transformed into an outward-looking, cosmopolitan, multicultural centre, bristling with talent and world-leading technical capability.
Riding the recession to post an output of more than £28.2bn a year and boasting nearly 44,000 businesses, it is well placed to capitalise on the upturn, with a confidence and willingness to promote itself in other regions.
An example of this is northshoring, an alternative to offshoring, which has made Sheffield a highly attractive destination for London and south-east-based companies who are seeking to increase productivity and profits while achieving significant cost savings and minimising risk.
It helps legal and professional services firms to become more competitive in a growing market by relocating middle office and back-office functions to this more cost-effective northern location - just two hours from the capital by train - while retaining a London presence.
The benefits are instant and considerable. Firstly, Sheffield is independently assessed as one of the most cost-effective UK cities for both property and staff.
Very low floor rents (£14 per square foot for Grade ‘A’ city centre office space) and lower property and people costs (salaries are 28% below those in London and the south of England) make for a massive costs savings without compromising service delivery and quality. This is due to the supremely talented and qualified labour pool – more than 340,000 Sheffield residents hold a degree-level qualification or higher, while more than 60,000 people speak a second language.
An additional benefit is that salary expectations are among the most favourable nationwide: a recent East West Locations survey concluded that: ‘No other location offers such a large recruitment catchment, combined with such competitive salaries, in the UK.’
The wealth of available employees enables companies to grow their talent pools at significantly reduced recruitment and salary costs. Almost 1.4 million people are of working age – that’s 64%, higher than the national average - and with 12 universities within an hour’s travel; employers can recruit 92,000 local graduates every year.
Sheffield’s combination of city culture and rural surroundings also makes the city highly attractive to potential employees, while very low staff turnover cuts expensive hiring and training costs and avoids productivity dips. IRS figures bear this out, posting an average attrition rate of 15.5%, compared to the UK-wide 22.7% – allowing firms to better grow their talent pools in-house.
Supporting the city’s reputation as a centre for business is the landmark 2015 devolution deal, which gave the council control over budgets to help businesses address skills shortages and provide a wealth of opportunities to get people into work.
Sheffield’s digital infrastructure is likewise excellent – benefiting from a close proximity to existing national telecommunications networks, as all major providers route a great part of their traffic via the city. Businesses therefore enjoy fast and reliable e-access to the UK, Europe and the world.
The region also offers a gateway into new markets. Aside from Sheffield and its immediate surroundings, Leeds and Manchester are steaming ahead and have highly developed professional service sectors, while Hull is also carving out an impressive presence in these areas.
UK-wide, the city region is positioned in the geographical centre – with robust road, and rail transport links, making it an ideal base for business travel. Its close proximity to five international airports further enhances global accessibility.
In summary, Sheffield’s capabilities are undoubtedly better than most with financial and professional service providers quick to capitalise on what the city region has to offer. National and international law firms have been created and expanded here with the profession now employing 7% of the workforce and contributing more than 14% of Sheffield’s overall economy.
Thanks to powerful partnerships our LEP is a driving force which continues to go from strength to strength. hlw Keeble Hawson is a law firm with Sheffield roots spanning two centuries. It is proud to be playing an instrumental role in forging mutually beneficial collaborations which are vital to the city’s major economic initiatives.
Giles Searby is chair of Sheffield City Region LEP’s group for business, professional and financial services. He is a partner in the litigation and dispute resolution team at Sheffield law firm, hlw Keeble Hawson