Referendum doubts hurt Scots financial services

Political uncertainties relating to the independence referendum meant ­financial services firms chose the north of ­England over Scotland when it came to expanding their operations in recent years, new research has claimed.

Yes and Union supporters are interviewed outside the Scottish parliament. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Yes and Union supporters are interviewed outside the Scottish parliament. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Figures from recruiter BrightPool, published today, show the number of financial services jobs created in Edinburgh fell by a fifth over the last two years.

And Glasgow, which should have been a major beneficiary of a trend for “northshoring” of financial sector support jobs away from increasingly expensive London, was also hit.

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BrightPool managing director Angela Hickmore said: “Concerns over the impact of Scottish independence was widely voiced amongst the financial services sector. This led to a slowdown in recruitment north of the Border, despite the cost advantages of Glasgow over other UK cities.

“The financial services industry is traditionally very strong in Scotland. Now the referendum is over, business confidence is returning and recruitment trends in the financial services sector should start to closely match those of the other ­regions.”

Edinburgh and Glasgow saw some of the biggest falls in financial services ­recruitment across the UK as financial services companies put expansion north of the Border on hold.

At the end of September, the number of vacancies in the sector stood at 1,595 in Edinburgh, compared with 1,995 two years earlier. Glasgow saw a 16 per cent fall to 935 vacancies.

At the same time, cities in the north of England enjoyed an influx of jobs as firms looked to cut costs by moving operations away from London. Liverpool saw a 49 per cent rise in vacancies to 1,088, followed by York with a 43 per cent rise and Manchester up 41 per cent.

Meanwhile, financial services vacancies in London fell by 4 per cent over the two years, from 19,888 in 2012 to 19,011 in 2014.

Hickmore said moving more back- and middle-office jobs out of London to the regions was a key part of efforts to improve cost-to-income ratios among financial firms trying to rebuild profitability.

She said: “There are big savings to be made in both property and staff costs. Financial services employment growth in the regions is rapidly outpacing that of London – that is a clear reversal of the trend before the credit crunch, when higher returns on capital meant staff costs were not such a concern.”

But there may be good news for post-referendum Scotland. Brightpool said that some regions can still be hard to recruit in as there is a smaller local pool of experienced financial services staff, compared with more established financial services centres such as London, but Scotland has an established track record in the sector.

The survey comes after the UK passed another hurdle in the recovery from ­financial crisis, with all its major banks passing new European stress tests ­designed to mimic the effect of another bout of turmoil. Lloyds had the lowest score in terms of its capital ratios under the scenario, leading to suggestions the UK financial regulator may ask it to ­bolster its balance sheet before it starts paying dividends to shareholders again.

And there were reports at the weekend that Royal Bank of Scotland has decided against divesting its Irish business, which also passed the European tests.