Relocation opportunities creating jobs
BELFAST BRIEFING:There has never been a better time to relocate to Belfast – or at least that is the message global law firm Allen Overy will be trying to sell to 43 of its international staff this week.
The legal firm has decided to move “certain roles” from offices in the US and other European cities. It is not often that companies choose to relocate jobs to the North; normally it is the other way around, but Allen Overy has found, not entirely surprisingly, that it is cheaper to do the job from Belfast than, say, New York.
So the firm, which has 42 offices in 29 countries, has decided to shift jobs from nine other cities to Northern Ireland.
Eighteen months ago, it established a support office in Belfast, with the objective of saving £10 million over five years. It started the ball rolling back then by relocating 180 support jobs from London and getting a £2.5 million grant from Invest NI towards a job- creation target of 317 jobs.
According to global managing partner Wim Dejonghe, its Belfast Support Services Centre is “successfully delivering the quality service and cost savings we anticipated”.
It currently employs more than 300 people, ahead of target, and he believes it makes sense to “streamline our processes in other parts of the business” – ie save more money elsewhere.
It will expand its Belfast operations to service the US and parts of Europe, a strong endorsement of the relatively new operation.
Belfast will provide a mixture of support services, including finance, IT, business services and marketing, hopefully creating more job opportunities locally.
Any organisation coming to the North to create jobs will always be warmly welcomed, particularly against the backdrop of latest unemployment statistics which show an estimated 69,000 out of work.
However, while it is a definite boost for Belfast, it is probably not such good news for the people whose jobs Allen Overy wants to relocate.
It says relocation packages, where possible, will be offered to the people affected. Essentially, they will be faced with a choice of redundancy or relocation.
Instead of waking up in New York, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Milan, Paris or Rome – all places where jobs are being axed – they get the chance to wake up in Belfast.
This might not be an option for everyone and, of course, Allen Overy says it completely “understands that these changes will be difficult” for their staff. But as Dejonghe highlighted last week, it is not personal, it is just business – or as he put it, Allen Overy has to “ensure we are operating in a way that will deliver the cost efficiencies our clients expect of us, so that we protect the long-term competitiveness of our business”.
Belfast may be a cheaper option for the firm but it must also help to sway corporate minds when there are financial incentives in the mix. Invest NI is going to give Allen Overy another £348,400 to “create up to 67 new high-quality jobs in Belfast”.
Invest NI’s arithmetic adds up because, technically, Allen Overy are creating 43 jobs as a result of the transfer of roles from its US and other European offices; it has confirmed plans to create a further 24 jobs in Belfast over the next three years.
The legal firm employs about 5,000 people, including 500 partners, worldwide. If it can transfer 223 of these jobs in the space of just 18 months, who is to say there might not be more coming in the future?
It might not be the nicest way to generate employment but can there be room for sentiment when you are faced with the kind of unemployment issues that Northern Ireland has?
Northern Ireland might not yet have the low corporation tax regime for which it pines but it might just have discovered an opportunity when it comes to relocation.