Staff recruitment across Britain has continued creating new employment opportunities and has partially reduced the differential of higher London salaries, although regional salary levels are unlikely to reach parity. Regional differences in relative ease or difficulty of recruitment also look set to continue, at least for the medium term. Where skills are in demand in certain locations across the UK such as in Leeds and the north, salaries are often noticeably higher. This appears to apply particularly within the retail and e-commerce sectors, along with business services and technology.
In a survey carried out of recruitment and salary trends in finance and accounting in the Leeds area, the majority of companies reported that existing teams were being increased in size. This headcount was being added primarily to invest in new projects and especially applied in the case of finance professionals with skills in forecasting, budgeting, margin analysis and cost efficiency savings – all of which were considered to be in demand.
Just over four fifths (83 per cent) of Chief Finance Officers (CFOs) were optimistic about the UK economy in general and business growth in particular. Conversely, the recruitment of employees for accounting and finance roles was seen to be a continuing challenge, with shortages of potential new staff noticed by over nine in ten of northern CFOs who responded to the survey. Reasons quoted for this were a lack of expertise or appropriate niche experience (38 per cent), along with demand for staff outstripping supply and/or a lack of business awareness and general commercial skills (each of those factors were mentioned in around a quarter of the responses received). CFOs also mentioned that in addition to accounting or finance qualifications, they also considered a number of competencies including analytical, communication and problem solving skills to be pre-requisites for taking on a new staff member.
Permanent posts which companies were looking to fill included analysts, management accountants, financial controllers and business partners for commercial and finance roles, apart from the typical on-going need for new trainees. Management Information Systems (MIS), planning and analysis staff along with purchase ledger clerks were also relatively sought after. For temporary or interim positions, recruitment needs were reported for systems and transformation experts together with business and management information specialists. Credit controllers and purchase ledger clerks were also in demand.
Of the northern CFOs surveyed, 45 per cent reported that they anticipated salary increases during 2015, with an average increase of 4 per cent being expected. The general trend of larger companies paying more than SMEs continued with few exceptions. Commercial financial controllers could expect the most generous increases (over 4 per cent), whereas purchase ledger clerks in larger organisations and credit controllers in SMEs both had the least generous prospects of a rise, with a more modest 1.6 to 1.8 per cent being envisaged.
No universal solution was seen appropriate as a ‘one size fits all’ answer to attract and retain the best staff. Nonetheless, a company car, pension and healthcare were seen as three major components of most remuneration packages, in conjunction with other relatively minor rewards including a mobile telephone, tablet or laptop computer. Subsidised training and company mentoring were also thought to be important. In two thirds of cases in Leeds and the north, CFOs were offering bonuses at sign on to attract new employees in certain categories, a figure which may be a response to the difficulties encountered recruiting experienced finance staff as reported in 93 per cent of cases. Some level of difficulty was also reported in almost 97 per cent of new employee searches for administrative and office support staff in the north of England – this figure being one of the highest in the country.
An analysis of salary ranges within the banking and capital markets in London and comparisons with other parts of the country was carried out using data from HMRC, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and local recruitment consultants, amongst others. Leeds and the north encountered a regional variance of 92 to 93 of average national salaries, similar to the current situation being experienced in the West Midlands and the south west of England. By comparison, central and outer London pay was approximately 129 per cent of this national average.
Put another way, if London salaries are considered as 100 per cent, then the salaries on offer in nearby Manchester are typically around 75 per cent of this level. Although no separate data was published for the city of Leeds, the figures made available for northwest England put regional variance at about three quarters of pay levels in the capital. Furthermore, this level of around 75 per cent also applied to Birmingham and Bristol. Curiously, the Scottish financial centre and capital of Edinburgh paid in the region of 80 per cent, perhaps to attract new employees that much further northward.
In Leeds and the north of England, the vast majority (95 per cent) of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) reported challenges in finding skilled information technology professionals. This proportion was similar to that encountered in London and the southeast. Remuneration levels for IT and technical staff in the northwest of England and Yorkshire were about 92-93 per cent of the average, on a par with the West Midlands and southwest England.