Magazine article Management Today

Going the Distance for Quality of Life

Magazine article Management Today

Going the Distance for Quality of Life

Article excerpt

RELOCATION 1 When the British Council needed to reduce cost it decided it could no longer afford London rents, but the benefits of moving to Manchester have not only been financial, as revealed in the first of three articles on relocation by Malcolm Brown

The British Council's annual report says that the relocation of its UK operations to Manchester last March was achieved 'precisely to plan'. That is perhaps bending the truth to some extent. The move was planned with extraordinary precision, but someone somewhere forgot to calculate what would happen if 30 pantechnicons bearing all the worldly goods of the 350 relocating staff were to arrive at their destination simultaneously.

The London office closed on the Friday and the Manchester office was to open on the following Monday. 'By late afternoon on Saturday,' says Dr Robert Taylor, the council's assistant-director general, 'we realised that the one thing we hadn't planned was getting the stuff off the pantechnicons and into the offices. Everywhere was blocked. You couldn't move for crates. There was a time when it looked as though it was all going to come to an awful, grinding halt.'

In the event, Taylor and his colleagues rolled their sleeves up and set to work as unpaid assistants to the removal men. 'The team worked right through the night, so when people arrived at 8am on Monday morning it was all there waiting for them.'

Moving the council's UK operations to Manchester was a matter of economics. The council had two main offices in London: its headquarters at Spring Gardens, just off the Mall, and a big block near Oxford Street. The least for the latter was running out and the Landlords said they did not want to offer it for renewal, so the council had to decide where to go next.

Central London office space at that time - in the late 1980s before the recession - was going for about [Pound]45 a square foot. Outside London the same space cost only a third as much.

The differential was crucial, says Taylor, because of the strongly competitive element that was emerging in the council's operations. 'A lot of people see us as an organisation which is funded by the Government, but in fact the grant-in-aid from the Government is only about a quarter of our income. The other three-quarters comes from contracts which we win from the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), the World Bank, the United Nations and the EEC. It can be anything from developing primary health care in India to training accountants in Romania.'

Six or seven years ago the council more or less had a monopoly on ODA work. 'But with the change in emphasis in government to prove that it's getting value for money it was decided that the work the ODA does, along with all the other aspects of government, should go out to competitive tender.

That looming on the horizon made us very much aware that we needed to reduce costs and look at the value for money we were providing in a way which we hadn't before.' The end result was the council could no longer afford London rents.

The decision to relocate was finally taken in 1989 but that was after more than 12 months' research had been carried out into more than 200 sites. The short list was eventually narrowed down to Glasgow, Leeds, Bradford and Manchester. 'It wasn't an easy choice,' says Taylor. 'It was very, very close.'

There were four basic criteria: good international communications (through Manchester Airport); good communications with London (Manchester is only two-and-a-half hours away by train); easy access to universities, polytechnics and training colleges; and quality of life. …

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