PracticeAccounting FirmsRegional special: Manchester calling

Regional special: Manchester calling

Forget the Coronation street image, it is a great place to do business - and cheaper than London

Attitudes in the regions are changing. Whereas once the dominance of London
was seen as detrimental to the likes of Manchester and Birmingham as it sucked
investment opportunities away from other parts of the country, now the capital’s
success is filtering through to all corners of the UK.

In Manchester, great strides have been made in the financial sector in recent
years, with the city no longer promoting itself as a direct competitive
alternative to London. Instead, the north’s burgeoning financial centre is
positioning itself as a complimentary value offering to the capital – helping to
shoulder the inevitable strains put on recruitment, retention and training as
London develops into the world’s financial centre.

MIDAS, Manchester’s inward investment agency, has facilitated the relocation
of many big-name financial organisations in recent years. As well as being home
to the Big Four’s largest regional offices, other sizable firms such as Baker
Tilly are also able to take advantage of the wider infrastructure of expertise
in areas such as the Alternative Investment Market.

For example, Halliwells, currently AIM lawyer of the year is headquartered in
the city, employing more than 800 staff across its Manchester operations, with
potential to almost double this at its new Spinningfields site.

Selling a city like Manchester to potential investors requires a
sophisticated marketing operation and Manchester comes into its own as a
desirable UK location for financial organisations needing a major operational
centre outside London.

As a location, the city can provide a wide variety of solutions to businesses
from across the whole spectrum of the financial sector. It can cater for a range
of back and middle office functions, such as regulation, shared services, data
centres and customer contact centres, while at the same time offering cost
savings of around 30% compared to London. In some cases it can provide a lower
risk alternative to offshoring.

However, viewing the country’s regions as simply an alternative to the
sub-continent misses a huge opportunity. In 2005, the Manchester city region’s
accountancy and finance firms were involved with almost 50% of all AIM
flotations, with Russian, Chinese and Indian companies seeking access to the
City of London through Manchester.

In the past five years, the area has seen considerable growth in deal values,
with mergers and acquisitions in 2006 totalling £18.8bn – including one of the
largest deals ever handled by Manchester’s professionals, the £1.5bn Caudwell
Holdings deal.

Regional strength

Although we present ourselves as a complimentary offering to London, there
are a number of key elements that further strengthen the regional offering of a
centre like Manchester, in addition to the considerable cost savings.

Manchester has a large, sustainable, pool of labour with a commuter
population of 5.2 million within 30 miles of the city centre. The financial
sector is also highly productive and experienced, with 81% of the Manchester
workforce employed in the services sector, of which more than 240,000 work in
financial and professional services.

It has more than 5,500 qualified chartered accountants, six centres where
accountants can train and many accountancy practices where finalists train
within work. However, it is the ever-growing student population that is making
the city so attractive to the big accountancy firms, whose recruitment drives
are fed by more than 3,000 new graduates qualifying in finance-related subjects
every year. The city has four universities – University of Manchester,
Manchester Metropolitan University, Salford University and the University of
Bolton – with a combined student population of more than 100,000, one of the
largest in Europe.

Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester, meanwhile, has
been described by independent bodies as one of the leading schools of its type
in Europe and is home to the six-star rated School of Accountancy and Finance,
one of only two schools of accountancy in the UK to have this top rating.

In addition, the Manchester Metropolitan University Business School is one of
the largest business schools in the UK, with some 3,000 undergraduates and 1,500
postgraduates. As well as offering degrees in all major sub-disciplines of
business and management, the School engages in applied research and provides
in-house courses and consultancy services for corporate clients.

All these factors led the Institute of Financial Planning to chose MMUBS as
its first and only UK partner to develop its presence across the country.

The agreement looks likely to set a new national educational benchmark for
the financial services sector, as the university’s financial services degree
becomes the first in the UK to offer a programme that will meet the
pre-certification education requirement for the certified financial planner
qualification, the discipline is highest professional standard.

Complementing the universities, regional training and development
organisations Manchester Solutions and Skills Solutions have been supporting the
recruitment and professional training of young people through the accountancy
apprenticeship and have a high success rate of achievers going onto higher level
professional studies from ATT to ACCA and CIMA.

Due to the success of these schemes a new programme was developed called the
professional apprenticeship, designed for young people leaving school with A
Levels, wanting to embark on a new career in accountancy. The programme is
unique to Manchester and is delivered in partnership with the

National Commercial Providers of Accounts Training and, where applicable, it
is either fully or partially funded by the Learning & Skills Council.

Alongside this unique initiative, Skills Solutions has been leading the way
on some of the new funded apprenticeships in financial services and is, at
present, one of the only providers in the country offering the L3 investment
banking scheme as a first start on the career ladder for school leavers into
financial services. This programme has been highly successful and offers
learners working in global custody, investment and fund accounting roles the
opportunity to develop themselves through SII professional studies.

For a city like Manchester, with its expanding financial sector, this
investment in the future is vital to its continued growth.

We are aware how critical these unique, bespoke training packages are to
attract and retain investment in the financial services sector. Continuing to be
at the cutting edge of financial services education is vital to the future
development of the sector within the city.

Tim Newns is head of business development for the financial
and professional sector at MIDAS

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