Career focus: London boroughs

A region by region look at working in HR in the UK.  This month we investigate London boroughs.  Edited by Ross Wigham, e-mail:

Get the right balance to appreciate capital living

Working as an HR professional in the UK capital is something of a balancing act in both professional and personal terms.

Great opportunities, higher wages, being at the forefront of the latest management thinking, and working in one of Europe’s largest cities are all in the capital’s favour. But they must be weighed against the huge cost of living and increased recruitment difficulties.

Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says that working in the capital brings both challenges and opportunities.

“For HR professionals, if you want to advance your career fast, it’s likely that you will find more job opportunities and have access to more HR networks in London than anywhere else in the country,” he says.

“In terms of the challenges facing HR professionals, recruiting the right people is one of the biggest, particularly for public sector employers. Teachers, nurses, ambulance crews and administration staff may find it makes more sense to work outside London so finding innovative methods of recruiting and retaining staff is proving increasingly important.”

However, he warns that although HR staff would acquire valuable London experience and access to influential networks, they could also face difficult financial issues. “HR professionals working in London may typically earn more than their counterparts in the regions, but their money won’t go as far as more will go on housing, transport and getting to work.”

The professional arguments for the capital are impressive. Some of the world’s leading companies are based in London, particularly in the financial services sector.

In workforce terms, the latest government figures show that, in April 2004, the employment level in London had risen by 0.3 per cent to 3.58 million.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment figure in London was 6.8 per cent, down by 1 per cent in the past 12 months.

The public sector in London has been facing challenging times, with recent strikes over Civil Service pay adding to the difficulties around staff shortages and key worker housing.

The PCS union has claimed that a plethora of different pay rates across various organisations has led to a culture of ‘unfairness, low morale and inefficiency’ in the Civil Service. In the future, some Civil Service jobs are also expected to be shipped away from the capital as part of a modernisation of the service.

Angela O’Connor, HR director at the Crown Prosecution Service, believes the level of change facing the sector makes it a fascinating and challenging area to work in.

“Recruitment is a major issue for the public sector in London because of the competition,” she says. “There’s also high staff turnover, high salary costs and very expensive housing.”

“The HR networks across the capital are excellent, enabling us to pull a very wide HR community together and share best practice. There are challenges in the sector because massive change is going on, but HR is at the heart of that, with some very experienced people.”

Living in the region


The area is probably the best in the country for its range of training courses, HR events and management schools. Although it can be difficult to recruit for more junior roles, London tends to attract some of the top graduates, managers and young professionals. However, competition for good school places can be fierce.


Although London’s travel problems are well documented, the capital does have a wide range of choices for getting around. The London Underground spans the entire city, linking all the major train stations and places of interest. There is also an extensive bus network that is currently receiving large-scale investment. The overground railway network, although often subject to lengthy delays, is vast. Drivers in the centre of town are subject to a congestion charge of £5 per day between 7am and 6.30pm. Heathrow and Gatwick are the major airports.


Naturally, the cultural scene in London is booming. There is something for almost everyone among the capital’s world-class museums, art galleries, theatres, cinemas and landmarks. It is packed with things to do and see, including the London Eye, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral. There is a vibrant nightlife and a busy professional sports scene, and London is certainly one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.


House prices in the capital outstrip any other area of the UK, and are among the most costly in the whole of Europe. According to the official Land Registry figures, the average price of a London property is £260,658. The market price for a detached house in Greater London is £520,023, while a semi-detached home will cost £287,070. Buying a terraced house or flat isn’t much cheaper, with average prices of £271,187 and £222,147 respectively.

Company profile

Staff: 800 in London
Based: central London

Examination board Edexcel has around 800 staff in the capital, in three separate locations. HR director Tim Williams is on his third spell in London, based centrally at Russell Square.

He was drawn to London by the job more than the location, but the number and range of HR-related conferences and events added to the attraction.

“London has plus and minus points just like anywhere else,” he says. “But all roads and railways lead to London, as it is the centre of UK communications.”

Williams believes that despite some staff shortages for senior roles and relatively high turnover, due to a wider choice of jobs, London provides excellent staff at a good price.

“The main benefits are the availability of good quality staff at the right price, good transport links (when they work) and a close proximity to other businesses and customers,” he adds. “It has an excellent blend and a deep pool of talented people, as well as top leisure and shopping facilities. I don’t like the commuting, but I do enjoy the buzz of the capital and the fact that everything is relatively close at hand.”

Move here for…

Your career

There are more opportunities and chances to progress than almost anywhere else in the country

The city

A world-famous location

The network

As a professional centre, it has the best HR networks and a top range of events and conferences to attend

but beware of…


Long hours coupled with the fast pace may test your nerves

City life

Dirty, smelly, over-populated. And don’t forget the high house prices


The city’s creaking transport system, coupled with traffic problems and the sheer weight of numbers can often make it difficult to get around

HR contacts and local information

CIPD London branches

London Government

Official site for London


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