Meet Simon, Matthew and Jonathan – part of the growing band of QSs who are escaping London to find happiness, wealth and housing in the provinces.
If you’re a quantity surveyor wanting to earn serious money and work on interesting projects, there used to be only one place to be: London. Not now. Across the country, demand for qualified staff is so great that professionals with the right skills and experience can name their price – and force up salaries outside the capital. The chance to lower the cost of living, improve the quality of life and get onto the property ladder mean that the decision to move to the regions is a no-brainer for surveyors like Simon Freeth, Matthew Whittle and Jonathan White [pictured].
The brain drain has begun.
The Building/Hays Construction & Property salary guide reveals that at almost every level quantity surveyors’ pay packets outside the capital are increasing faster than their London-based counterparts. In central London, salaries rose by up to 4%, but in the regions they reached 8%, 9% or even 12%. The exceptions to this rule are graduate QSs, who enjoyed an 8% rise in London to £21,000, and 6% rises almost everywhere else.
“There’s such demand at the moment you don’t have to work in London to earn a lot of money,” confirms Gareth Broadrick, manager of Hays Construction & Property surveying and property division in London. “Firms in the regions will match whatever people are already getting.” Broadrick says professionals in their late 30s are most in demand, partly as a result of the low number of graduates in the early 1990s, and he’s seen many moving out of London. Hays Construction & Property’s statistics show that the pay for a 38-year-old ARICS-qualified associate went up 4% to £47,000 in central London, but 8% almost everywhere else, and in Wales, salaries increased 9% to £38,000. “They’re earning a good salary, but unless they want to climb the corporate ladder they don’t have to be in London to do their job.”
Gleeds employs 600 staff in the UK. Alan Baker is managing partner in charge of the Nottingham office and he’s noticed an increase in the number of CVs he receives from people wanting to move out of London. “It’s because of lifestyle issues and property prices. People talk about the time it takes them to get to work. I can be in the office in 15 minutes. The restaurants and bars and nightlife outside London is on a par now as well; it’s really excellent for young people.”
Aside from the draw of a better lifestyle, Baker believes recruits are attracted by the improved opportunities on offer. “One time if you wanted to work on a big project, you had to work in London. Now there’s a large hospitals and schools programme, government relocation is starting and there’s a lot of regeneration work. You don’t have to work in London to work on a £50-100m scheme.”
Terry Banham, HR director at Turner & Townsend, which employs 900 staff across the UK, points out that even working on the highest profile projects that London has to offer is not that much fun: “Terminal 5 is a big sexy exciting project, but if you live in the east or south of London, getting to Heathrow is a nightmare – you’re looking at four hours travel a day.”
The regeneration of the North-east has proved a powerful magnet for QSs. Newcastle and Sunderland are benefiting from housing projects, tourist-pulling schemes such as Newcastle’s music centre and the Baltic art gallery, as well as a hotel and retail boom.
But smaller firms are feeling the pinch. Alan Dunn, director at the 35-strong Hall & Partners in Newcastle, says it has been forced to look outside the area for staff and to pay them more. “There’s a definite shortage of QSs. We’ve got a huge workload and if we can’t do the jobs we won’t get the clients. It’s a premium we’re willing to pay.” He adds that the firm has had to give its existing staff increases of between 8% and 13% to keep them in line with new employees. In fact, the firm pays senior surveyors more than £40,000, which is above the typical salary in the North-east of £34,000, according to Hays Construction & Property’s statistics.
London firms setting up regional offices are pushing up local salaries in the regions. At Turner & Townsend, HR director Terry Banham says that it has asked several employees to relocate from London to cities in the North in the past year, where local projects demand particular skills. “If we ask them to move, we wouldn’t do any kind of salary adjustment,”he says.
In Liverpool, which is undergoing a boom triggered by regeneration and its debut as European Capital of Culture in 2008, local firms are feeling the impact of the newcomers. “A number of UK and London surveyors have moved to the area because of the opportunities created by the boom. It’s never been so hard to find staff,” says Andrew Taylor, finance director of Tweeds in Liverpool, where 40 of its 140 UK staff are based.
The impact for smaller local firms could be severe, points out David Taylor, director in charge of the Glasgow office of CBA, which employs 35 people in Glasgow and Edinburgh. “Fee levels aren’t going up and salary levels will affect the bottom line for any organisation.” He says that in the last couple of years salaries have risen about 10%.
In London, firms are fighting to keep their London offices fully staffed. Lauren Bartlett, HR officer at Gardiner & Theobald, has noticed an increase in requests to transfer to the North. She says salaries are up to £10,000 higher than 18 months ago. “There’s been a huge jump. You get into a bidding war. You make an offer, someone else goes £5k above that.” In response, G&T pays £3000 joining bonuses to staff and £3000 to staff who recommend a friend to the company.
Could London cease to be an essential port of call for QSs wishing to make their way in the world? Rob Smith, senior partner at Davis Langdon, thinks not. “Career-focused people are still going to have to make it work in London. There’s housing in the pipeline that will get property prices into balance. There’ll be a steady flow of people doing their 10 years in London and then thinking about the lifestyle change.”
Besides, he adds, things are heating up in the capital, particularly if it is wins the Olympics in 2012. “If we get it, that’ll draw people back in this direction again,” he says. “There are also enough really big projects happening - Kings Cross, Stratford, the next phase of White City. Liverpool’s Paradise Street and the development of Bath, can’t compete with these.”
What does a consultant make?
A mixed bag for architects. Although certain roles in certain regions enjoyed startling pay increases, the average pay for others declined by figures almost as eye catching. For example, part qualified architectural assistants in Scotland, interior designers in the North-east and Scotland, landscape architects in central London, the South-west and Yorkshire enjoyed pay rises well above 20%, but Scottish partners and space planners in the North-east are taking home significantly less than they were last year. Regional disparities are still holding firm, with London and the Home Counties still head and shoulders above the rest of the UK, while salaries in Scotland and the North-east are still lagging behind the average.
The best pay increases were for architectural assistants part II, technologists with three years experience, technicians and landscape architects all earned 7% or above.
Modest rises for building surveyors, but like their rarer cousins in the QS world, they will find that salaries in the regions – particularly in Wales and the North-west – are not that much lower than in London. This trend is most pronounced for those just starting out in the industry and those at partner level. Project managers with five years’ experience would do well to head to the capital though, where at £50,000 they can earn nearly £13,000 more than the national average.
A much steadier ride this year for engineers – while last year’s survey found a wide variance, ranging from –7% to +22%, this time around all have seen more pedestrian rises within the 3-6% range. The middle-stage roles were most in-demand and enjoyed the highest rises for every specialism – for example, for both structural and infrastructure work, graduates saw their pay increase by 3%, principals by 4% but those with about five years experience are taking home 5% more. Senior bridge engineers come out on top with a 6% rise. Below associate and principal level, regional disparities were also much flatter. For example, bridge engineers with two years’ experience could earn the same or more in the South-west, Wales, East Midlands, East Anglia and the North-east than in London.
The Hays Construction & Property consultants salary survey 2005 is based on salaries of 6000 consultants placed by Hays Construction & Property within the past 12 months. It is compiled over a four-week period by staff at Hays’ 75 offices across the UK.