John Mohan: Getting charity HQs out of London sounds like a win-win to me

If the civil service is moving jobs out of London, it makes sense for charities to do the same, writes our new columnist

John Mohan
John Mohan

Should supporters of charities be concerned about the concentration of organisations in central London?

Additional costs are incurred through London allowances and the price of property. Despite recent discussions about senior salaries, there is a limit to how far salaries can be reduced, and in most organisations this would make only a marginal impact. Would dispersal of offices be another option?

London has about 20 per cent of all the charities in England, but it contains three-fifths of those with budgets above £10m and two-fifths of those with budgets above £1m. In national surveys, about three-fifths of charities with incomes greater than £1m describe themselves as the headquarters of an organisation with branches elsewhere. Of these, 41 per cent are in London – a proportion significantly greater than London's share of the charity population – and a further 15 per cent in south-east England.

This is consistent with what economic geographers call the UK's "spatial division of labour" – a concentration of economic and political control functions in London and the south east, with routine activities taking place elsewhere. Many national charities with HQs in London do operate projects elsewhere, but can they justify basing all their administrative staff there too? Charities would no doubt argue that if they operate on a national and international scale they need a strong presence in London to pursue networking and policy objectives, develop relationships with government and seek corporate funding. That's true for senior staff, but what about much larger numbers of administrative staff who don't have those external-facing roles?

For nearly 50 years, the civil service has been moving jobs out of London in the interests of the taxpayer. Isn't the same also true for charities? If HSBC can move its HQ to Birmingham, why can't charities do the same? We estimate there are 250,000 to 300,000 charity jobs in London; if even a quarter were relocated, that would save money through reduced salaries and lower property costs, take some heat out of the housing market and reduce regional economic imbalances. Sounds like a win-win all round.

John Mohan is director of the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham

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