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With people thinking little of commuting distances of 60 - 80 miles, and spending anything up to 90 minutes each way to do it, it's difficult to imagine how infrastructure can solve the problem that more than one third of the population live in much less than one tenth of the area (can't be bothered to work out actual proportion).

You don't need transport links to encourage employment away from london, you need employers to move away from london.

but when all of government, most of the civil service, most of the senior defence establishment, all of the finance industry is sited within a circle 10 miles in diameter, then that in itself is going to act as a magnet for everything else. No other country in the world co-sites its financial interests and government. It's like a black hole sucking in everything else.

to reverse that, they need to be drastic in encouraging as much as possible to move away, including the government (I have long believed that the UK would be in a better position if government were to move to Lancaster or Preston)

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue May 31st, 2011 at 05:14:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You don't need employers to move away from London - you need to persuade them to move beyond office culture.

One of the magazines I work for went virtual recently. They downsized from a couple of floors to a shoebox office with a PC and some storage. The MD splits her time between HQ and home. Everyone else works from home full-time, and they stay in touch over Skype.

They've all saved a few hundred pounds a month in travel costs, and they have an extra couple of hours a day free. They're not being any less efficient or productive than they used to be, and they're still working normal office hours - but they're doing it in different locations, from home.

If anything they're working more smoothly because meetings don't waste as much time as they used to, and there's an automatic record of all conversations.

I'm amazed how few tech companies support telecommuting. There's Skype, there's Facetime, there's email, there are Wikis and blogs, but companies still seem to believe the only way to get things done is to haul everyone into a single building at the same time every morning, keep them there all day whether they're busy or not, and send them off home again at the end of the day - five times a week.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue May 31st, 2011 at 05:25:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Telecommuting has its own pitfalls, though.

Oh, I don't doubt that it can be good for the company. But if you're not careful it produces a cubicle culture where employees don't interact with each other in any natural way.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue May 31st, 2011 at 05:36:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You can balance that by meeting once a month and making it an Informal Friday - for those who live close enough to do that.

And I'm finding it difficult to think of anything more cubicle-ish and artificial than the usual corporate at-work interactions.

I've been working from home since 1993, and I get far more done in far less time than I've ever been able to manage in an office.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue May 31st, 2011 at 05:48:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I miss my cubicle back at Census.  Sure, the building was in a demilitarized zone, and the commute was four times longer, but it was also new!  And it had insulation.  Now I have my own office in a muggy old building that I'm pretty sure must have been built during Union occupation or something.  The elevators break down almost daily.

Voldemort also doesn't let us use the heating system in winter anymore.

/csb

So, yeah, I'm down with the whole work-from-home thing.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue May 31st, 2011 at 07:20:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Like you, I've been working from home (or away from the fray) for nearly 20 years, and I'm part of a network of small companies and freelancers that assemble for media projects. I'm tempted to say I'm part of a creative ecosystem that is enabled by communication technologies.

I even have several regular clients I've never met F2F, though there are always 'connectors' involved i.e. trusted colleagues who recommend my work (and vice versa). These faceless clients tend to be outside Helsinki - as far away as Lapland.

The advantages to the entrepreneur are obvious: no expensive office space, little travel time and travel expenses (I DO meet clients), flexible work hours, better life quality, etc. There needs to be a greater investment in communication tech, but these days it's fairly cheap.

For clients, their 'advantage' is that they need to construct better briefs! And that means no more meetings without agendas and decisions. "We need to have another meeting to find out why we are not getting through our workload".

For society it means (or should) fewer cars on the roads, rural repopulation, profitable public transport, less pollution, support for local shops and services - and peace of mind.

The problem, of course, is that not all work is as interesting and challenging as the work you and I do. I'd do it for free - and I often do it for free for non-profit projects or to help younger colleagues get started. In corporate panoptikonia, the slave-driving hierarchy can only control workers in unsatisfying jobs by putting them in cells, and only allowing them out at night. There has to be a better way.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:51:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think telecommuting is fine for that part of the creative class who have an established set of marketable skills, but it won't suit entry-level jobs and it has little application to most of the jobs that most people do.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 06:52:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I disagree. A good proportion of office jobs can be done from home. Entry-level jobs like call-centre work can easily be done from home.

The only jobs that can't are the ones where physical stuff has to be warehoused and/or processed. But anything that's paper-based, phone-based or e-based is an easy win.

Some businesses are already doing it. I know a couple of people with ordinary office jobs who have been shifted out of central London properties and are now working from home.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 07:21:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know a couple of people with call center jobs who provide phone support for a large satellite TV firm from their homes in the middle of nowhere

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 07:28:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, especially as routine paperwork becomes electronic and it becomes routine to scan physical paperwork as it arrives. The issue isn't being able to do the job, it's more a management issue - bosses like to see rows of peons working away where they can see them.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 07:36:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well what status is there in being a distributed manager? in not having serried ranks of  peons slaving in front of you?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 07:47:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My experience of living and working in the North is that transport is a huge issue. None of the economic areas outside London/SE are as large as London, which means sooner or later you're going to need to do business with someone either from a different city.

Half the time in the Midlands, that involves travelling via London.

In the North, it's just painful to realise that Leeds to Manchester is a grand total of 36 miles and it takes roughly an hour on the train.

The final insult is the total lack of cross-London rail lines and links. There's a substantial concentration of multinational companies in the Thames Valley and the main way you get there from the North is... train to London, tube to another part of London, train out to Reading/Slough/etc.

Freight is an even bigger problem - the natural advantage of places outside the South East is space for big manufacturing enterprise. But the lack of investment in freight rail means that transport costs on ever more clogged roads just go up and up.

To be clear, up to now, none of this is really about HS2.

I do believe in some kind of HS2 project - some say other investments are a better payback, but I think that concedes too much. If we actually want to get people out of the SE, we need to do the cross-regional projects and HS2.

And it's not all about HS2 tracks - we're still waiting for direct trains to Paris/Brussels. It's 2 hrs from St Pancras to Brussels by Eurostar. In principle that's 4-5 hours from Leeds to Brussels by train. That competes with air travel and makes a business relationship with that part of Europe easier, without moving to Buckinghamshire.

Of course it would be nice if Britain were not so centralised around London, if some radical government in 1970 had made a change... but starting from where we are, some things have been moved (parts of the BBC to Salford, DWP to Leeds) - and what makes or breaks the deployment is the ease of continued access to London. If those things work, then there's the potential to get some critical mass going.

All this is predicated on the notion that the convenience of the managerial class is the defining factor. But I think that's realistic. It's never stopped being cheaper and better for access to good graduates to base a business in one of the good university cities of the North - but it's rarely happened.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:02:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, to take up TBG's point, if we actually had world leading internet infrastructure then we might be in a position to let transport rot.

But we don't - the early days of the UK internet saw a lot of activity in the M62 corridor and also in Nottingham - but as bandwidth requirements rose, the data centres drifted south...

World-class internet interconnection touches the UK in London - and basically nowhere else...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:12:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One plan discussed in Finland was to set up office centres next to schools which would both be provided with best broadband access. The offices would be places where outworkers from different companies could gather. Office space would be flexible (all you need is your laptop) FCFS, and there would be a cafe/lunch restaurant, copying/office printing services, a library and so on.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:57:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to suggest that there's no internet outside of London.

My focus is on the extremely high bandwidth infrastructure that cutting edge applications require. That's an area where government planning and investment could affect the whole business landscape.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 04:22:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:31:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's an area where government planning and investment

You must be referring to another country. British government doesn't do planning and investment

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 06:50:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The one thing the Tories are doing right is pushing rural Internet. Wiltshire is getting £5 million for a local roll-out, and Somerset is getting something like £15m.

But for cutting-edge hosting, there's no real need to keep a server at home. You can hire or co-locate in London and get all the usual bandwidth and benefits, with remote management. For a lot of applications it's cheaper to do that than it is to buy a custom server and pay for a spare high speed broadband line.

Industrial data centres will usually have a leased line anyway, so they're not so dependent on public broadband.

It does mean they won't be based in the Hebrides, but there's no technical reason why they can't be based in the Midlands.

I know someone who ran a dating site on a cheap PC she kept in a spare bedroom. Initially it was connected to a couple of ISDN lines.

She happened to live in London, but she could have done it anywhere.

She sold the site a few years ago for half a million.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 07:29:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Metatone:
Leeds to Manchester is a grand total of 36 miles and it takes roughly an hour on the train

For the same distance in 1830, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway took twice that time.

Travel time halved in well-nigh two centuries. You can't stop progress, can you?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:45:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Lack of investment in Rail freight,

 did you see the salon piece a couple of nights ago, that they've had to bring in a hobbyists diesel loco to move some freight in the north thats class was retired 30 years ago, due to unanticipated increases in freight use.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:47:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Even so, the point remains valid. An awful lot of freight handling depots have been mothballed and left to rot such that re-establishing a widespread freight network would be quite expensive.

It's no good being able to move the freight to within a couple of miles if you've no sidings where you can process it and no infrastructure to do so.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 06:36:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and spending anything up to 90 minutes each way to do it,
 

They are right. Why would they spend their precious lives commuting?
to reverse that, they need to be drastic in encouraging as much as possible to move away, including the government
 

They are trying something like that here but it's going to be hard...and slow...

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 06:44:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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