January 16, 2014 5:07 pm

Long commutes reveal London’s dominance of UK

Commuters Struggle With Over Crowding On Train Routes©Getty

Standing room: some commuters travel 6 hours a day

With a job in London and a home 300 miles away, more and more people in regions distant from the capital are squaring the circle of career fulfilment and quality of life.

After three days working in London, Eileen Tuohy, head of innovation in the Payments Council’s policy and markets unit, spends the end of the week working from the study of her stone-built farmhouse. In Slaley, her small Northumberland village, she knows of five others who commute regularly to London.

For her, the attraction is the contrast. “It’s the enjoyment I get from the job and from coming back to a very warm and welcoming community.”

Vince Cable, business secretary, recently voiced fears about London’s dominant role in the British economy, claiming it was becoming “a giant suction machine draining life out of the rest of the country”. In regions like northeast England, complaints are often heard about the amount of public money spent in areas such as transport infrastructure and the arts in London.

Many high-level professional jobs in sectors like finance and the media are based in the capital, making career progression challenging for people living outside the southeast.

“As you go higher up the jobs hierarchy, the distribution of jobs tends to be more and more London-centric,” says Andrew Wareing, chief operating officer for Acas, the arbitration and conciliation service. He is an example of how taking a job in London need not mean uprooting a working spouse and children to move to the crowded and expensive southeast.

Since 1999, Mr Wareing has travelled from his Newcastle home to Acas roles in London and around the UK. Acas is about to publish a new guide to peripatetic and home working. “With knowledge workers, employers are more interested in what they achieve than their ‘presenteeism’,” he says.

Official data on long distance commuting – typically Monday to Thursday with a rail journey on Thursday evening back to the north of England and Friday spent working at home – is limited. The Office of National Statistics has yet to release any analysis of what light the 2011 Census sheds on it.

But recruitment specialists and long-distance commuters confirm it has become more commonplace. “It’s a growing trend in the market place,” says Virginia Mellers, a director of Axon Resourcing, a recruitment specialist for senior finance posts. She believes this reflects partly risk aversion, with recruits nervous about relocating amid economic uncertainty, and the fact that employers, seeking people who match specific criteria, are casting their geographical net wider.

Sarah Green, formerly northeast regional director of the CBI, and now a long-distance commuter from Newcastle to her London post as a CBI member relations director, sees it as a “win-win” situation: “Children and houses are less portable than careers.”

Given the many HQs in the capital, she observes that there is “a lot of influence” in London. But she adds: “Where my job is physically located is an outdated concept. Lots of people’s jobs are in the cloud.”

While there are some who commute daily to London from locations like York and Manchester, Newcastle’s average six-hour round-trip is barely feasible. However, the Flying Scotsman service, at 269 miles the longest nonstop rail journey in Britain, is a welcome asset. It leaves Newcastle at 07.04 each day and arrives at Kings Cross at 09.40. While an annual season ticket would cost £18,020, long-distance commuters are adept at booking economical advance tickets. Ms Tuohy says some colleagues commuting daily into central London from the southeast spend more than she does.

Weekday stays in London inevitably involve overnight accommodation costs. Popular options include friends’ spare rooms, weekday lodgings sourced via internet websites, London clubs or even small flats, which can be seen as a good investment, given property price rises in the capital.

But the London effect has long ripples. Properties around Alnmouth, on the Northumberland coast, command a price premium of more than 10 per cent because of the local fast East Coast main rail line link to London, say local agents George F. White.

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