Why it's time to cast out the North-South divide

Charlie Spargo's picture
John Higginson

John Higginson - CEO of Higginson Strategy, which works with organisations and individuals in the business of doing good - says we should stop perpetuating the notion of a North-South divide, and work together to tackle any inequalities and splits that continue to exist.

Chancellor Sajid Javid and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell took to the stage in Manchester and Liverpool last month to announce their spending plans for the country. Their choice of Northern cities was no coincidence.

With each election hopeful politicians flock to the region as their early political battleground to showcase their commitment to closing the North-South divide.

While investing in our struggling towns and cities is to be applauded, maintaining the idea of the North-South divide is outdated and undefinable. The boundary of where the South ends and the North begins is hotly disputed yet it’s spoken of as though there is a tangible dividing line. We continue to maintain that the nation is made up of two unequal halves, with the North overshadowed by the South.

The reality is the North is booming. In just five years the Northern tech sector grew by some 619%, making it the fastest growing region for the industry in the whole of Europe. High-profile corporations continue to open Northern bases, joining the likes of Channel 4, the BBC and KPMG. This year Manchester was ranked the top city in the country for business.

The South is now no longer the leading region for general well-being. The annual Halifax Quality of Life Survey found that over half of the best places to live in the UK are outside the region, with the North benefitting from better housing affordability, low traffic flows and crime rates. The North isn’t a place to be looked down on, it’s a growing force to be reckoned with. And a lot could be achieved if the North and South worked together.

Multi-office agencies need to take note. Many still choose to separate their clients according to region, with Northern clients working with the Northern teams, and vice versa. This siloed attitude is a decades-old hangover from a time when there were genuine logistical challenges with working cross-office.

But these challenges no longer exist, and businesses are doing themselves an injustice by not recognising this.

Isolating offices by region encourages a blinkered mentality towards growth. It limits the scope of each office’s search for new business by giving them a restricted pool of opportunities. It reduces team cohesion and promotes office-to-office competition.

"Transport lets businesses to run as one cohesive national office with multiple locations"

A survey of employees from around the world found some 39% believe there isn’t enough collaboration within their organisation. Yet we know collaborative working results in better ideas and a rise in productivity. These benefits can only increase through office-to-office collaboration. And working in this way is easier than ever before.

Improvements in transport and technology allow businesses with offices across the UK to run as one cohesive national office with multiple locations. Train travel from Manchester to London takes just over two hours, mirroring the daily commute of thousands of Britons. Video conference calls are the norm. Working on the move is a given.

At Higginson, account teams often work together over different offices. Every week we have two ‘one office’ calls in which we all say everything we are doing, so all accounts get access to all minds. And we socialise as ‘one office’, sometimes in London, and sometimes in Manchester. 

The growing uptake of co-working spaces shows we are waking up to the changing rules of business. Now there is room for flexibility, creativity and trust in the workplace. Clients no longer expect regular face-to-face meetings, managers no longer need to keep an eye on their employees’ every move.

We’re adopting a more fluid approach to the way we work. And long may it continue.

Higginson Strategy’s Manchester office works seamlessly with clients and colleagues in the South.  Cross-office working is the norm and every member of the team is well-versed in how to make this approach a success. As a result, we have a united team, no regional competition, and a diverse client-base dotted across the country.

Whilst our politicians feel the power is in their hands to close the nation’s divide, businesses have a significant role to play too. Rather than deepening divisions by highlighting the differences and shortcomings of one region versus another, it’s high time our political leaders and businesses alike think of the country as one.

Utilising cross-office working, transport links and modern communication technology will in-turn create a more unified, inclusive Britain. It will encourage people to step outside their regional bubble to celebrate what the nation as a whole has to offer, rendering the North-South divide obsolete.