It’s time to move party HQ out of London

One of the adverse effects of the awful General Election result has been a significant drop in Party income, as we are now of much less interest to potential donors and people who wish to exhibit and hold fringe meetings at Conference. That means that we have to look at radical measures to cut costs so that we can deliver the maximum political effect on our reduced income. One area we should look at very closely is the location of Party HQ and whether we need have staff in an expensive central London location. The easy answer would be to move to another, cheaper London base, but that in my view would be a mistake – we should be asking if most of our staff need to be in London at all or whether they could be based somewhere else, where rents and salaries are lower.

Without a detailed knowledge of who does what at HQ it is difficult to know how many people we would need to keep in London – the press team of course and anyone who needs daily personal contact with Tim and the MPs. But looking at the latest organisation chart it is difficult to see why the people who work on IT and digital, compliance, conference, Membership and Finance need to be in London.

Where we should base a new HQ is another question – it needs to be on a good train line to London as there will still be a need for people to go to and from the capital and in a big enough city to be able to attract a good range of capable staff. ALDC seems to operate pretty well from Manchester or perhaps being based in Bristol would send a good message about our commitment to retaking our SW seats.

We cannot of course avoid the human impact that such a move would have – which it why it should ideally have been done in conjunction with the recent restructuring exercise at HQ but there is never a ‘right time’ for such a move and with 4 and a half years to go until the next election and the lease on Great George St coming up for renewal now is the time for us to take decisive action to lower our cost base.

* Simon McGrath is Membership Officer of Merton Lib Dems, writing in a personal capacity

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37 Comments

  • nigel hunter 4th Jan '16 - 10:44am

    Bristol ,Manchester, Leeds. I agree with the first two. Leeds? It is a growing vibrant City with links in all directions and a good airport with growing industry. A good launch pad for a new future.`

  • I’ed opt for Manchester, I can’t see that a Brostol office would do anything for helping with SW seats, better go for the Manchester option.

  • Paul Holmes 4th Jan '16 - 11:06am

    Agree (almost) absolutely with Simon on this one. In the situation we are now in we cannot afford to spend money on ‘business as normal’ admin and organisation and there are lots of changes that could be made.

    For example one member of the Campaigns Department was producing excellent artwork for Strategic Seats, from her farm in Northumberland with no need to live in London. The CONNECT Team could be based almost anywhere in the UK as long as there is good Broadband available and as Simon notes so could much else.

    Not sure though why Simon thinks the base (or bases?) has to be in a city? As MP for Chesterfield I used to regularly visit local Businesses, Charities etc and opened several new premises. I always asked of newcomers why they had relocated to Chesterfield and the answers commonly revolved around a) Central UK location b) Excellent communications links -astride the Midlands Main Line, next to the M1, around an hour or so away from a choice of 4 Regional Airports c) Much lower commercial and residential property costs than nearby Cities such as Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby, Manchester or Leeds d)Very close proximity to the Peak District.

    I’m sure lots of other places could make a similar case. As a Party that believes in devolution we need to get away from the idea that everything has to take place in London/big cities.

  • Liberal Neil 4th Jan '16 - 11:11am

    My view is that any party jobs that don’t need to be located in London shouldn’t be.

    It is worth noting, though, that as Simon’s comment about the person doing artwork from Northumberland suggests, many staff do already work from home or in offices elsewhere, including some of the roles he suggests. This has been positively encouraged and does mean that if we do relocate we can save a certain amount of office space because of it.

  • Mick Taylor 4th Jan '16 - 11:16am

    There is an awful lot of rethinking to be done about our whole organisation, not just where it is located. There is the possibility of abolishing a whole tier – namely the English Party – with responsibilities being mainly taken by the regions and perhaps a very few being the responsibility of the federal party. Then there’s the question about the whole campaigning direction of the party, which requires a radical rethink and almost certainly new blood with new ideas.

    The main problem is that reorganisation of the party’s central function is being rushed through even before the campaigns committee have produced their report on the 2015 election and certainly well in advance of any serious discussion of what organisation we need as a party in these strained and changed circumstances.

    There will still need to be a few core functions in London, but most central functions could be carried out anywhere. Manchester or Leeds both offer excellent communication and transport connections not only with London, but with Wales and Scotland as well. They also offer considerably cheaper accommodation both for the offices and for housing for people who work for us. ALDC worked out of the Birchcliffe Centre in Hebden Bridge for over 20 years, which is halfway between Manchester and Leeds on a main railway line. [The flooding which affected the Calder Valley didn’t affect Birchcliffe, which is up a hill]

    We have an opportunity – in circumstances none of us would have wished for – to build a new organisation fit for the 21st century with aims and objectives to get us back on the road to success. The present hole-in-the-corner reorganisation most certainly will not tackle the real problems. It should be halted to allow serious consideration of some of the issues raised in this thread and elsewhere.

    Conference resolution anyone?

  • adrian sanders 4th Jan '16 - 11:17am

    Well thanks to Simon’s hero Nick Clegg we how have fewer MPs at Westminster than Councillors on Devon County Council, so Exeter looks a good prospect with rail services to all parts of the UK and a thriving regional airport.

    Seriously though, you make a very important point.

  • I agree with Paul and Adrian that the party needs to think more creatively, as there is no real reason why the functions of the London office and party HQ need to be co-located. I was a little surprised that no consideration seems to have been given to the South West, a traditional LibDem stronghold, whilst Exeter is an obvious candidate, there are many international businesses HQ’d in the surrounding area.

  • Peter Davies 4th Jan '16 - 2:37pm

    It’s not obvious that all the functions that could be moved outside London need to be in the same place as each other. It might be that different departments could be co-located with target seat staff or regional staff if we end up with any.

  • There is good sense in this, and also using modern methods for communications and working. Bath was the first place that cane to mind, but it’s expensive too. Suggest somewhere in central England instead?

  • Peter Davies 4th Jan '16 - 4:17pm

    @John Marriott “Lib Dems move their HQ out of London, while the other parties stay. What does that say about our prospects?” The truth?

    The visible parts like the press office would obviously stay in London as Simon said.

  • Bill le Breton 4th Jan '16 - 6:18pm

    OK, why an HQ at all?

    If Elon Musk ever thought of building a political party in the UK, would he bother with an HQ?

    It might be very good for the Party not to have an HQ, not to have a CEO, not to have an FE, not to have a Policy Department.

    What would replace these?

    What does a Campaigns Department do other than making people depend on them rather than on themselves for campaigning?

    When every member can involve themselves in policy development, might we not have better policies?

    Would a new politics result? Would that be more attractive, more involving, more trustworthy, more effective?

  • Mick Taylor 4th Jan '16 - 10:14pm

    Of course Londoncentrics will blow off steam about the idea of much of our organisation moving out of London. But hey, we’re a federalist party and should start practising what we preach! London isn’t the centre of the universe and it’s time some of our big regional centres got in on the action.

  • Simon McGrath 4th Jan '16 - 10:41pm

    Thanks for the comments. Paul – I think it does need to be a biggish City to make sure we can attracts people with the skills we need. Fran – yes Brum would be an option – Manchester and Bristol were just examples.
    Mick -I agree t would be better to have the election review first. Why did the ALDC move out of Hebden Bridge? – does that offer any insights into where we should move to?
    Peter -I’m not sure I would agree -i think there are advantages to our (small) team being in one place -with some working at home. There are benefits in cross fertilisation and it is much easier for the CEo to manage.

  • Clearly the answer is Wolverhampton…

    More seriously I used to work for a large environmental charity based in Bedfordshire that had a London office where a number of staff – including some of the political team – worked out of. A number of leading charities have have their main offices outside of London but have an office there.

  • Paul Holmes 4th Jan '16 - 11:29pm

    Simon -I still don’t understand the need to be City based in order to attract people with the right skills? Surely not everyone who works for the Party in London was a London resident BEFORE they were employed? People with ‘skills’ do come from outside Cities too! Are those Party employees who do not live in London (in Northumberland and Oxfordshire for example) less skilled than those who live in London?

    Also, to return to the Chesterfield example as one illustration, someone who wants to live City Life could live in Sheffield but commute to work in Chesterfield far more quickly and cheaply than someone covering the same distances across London every day. Plus living in Sheffield is much cheaper than living in London and living in Chesterfield is cheaper still. Perhaps locating outside of a big city would open the field to a wider pool of people -a wider skill pool?

  • I agree Simon, wholeheartedly. I would also suggest satellite offices in each region or even folk working from home. Def no need for all to be based in London, especially in this age of technology

    But also the party, if it wants it, can get FREE help from members. Remember ‘Paddy’s’ skills survey before the election? I’m guess nothing became of that. Something I suggested doing in 2011. Survey members for the skills the party needs – most will be happy to help for free – graphic designers, marketing experts, campaigners, etc etc It’s all there to be taken advantage of if the Party would only listen in plenty of time and not leave it till 6 weeks before the election and then not do anything with it.

    Someone should coordinate this. Can someone remind me what the Chief Exec us for?

  • “We are not a Westminster based party” – I can see that helping with rebuilding the party locally, iven that is where we need to be for the next five years.

    A sensible, economic London operation (LDs careful with their money, not a bad message…) and a larger base (not ever to be called a HQ for press reasons) out of the capital could be a positive signal.

  • One extra point that hit me once I had posted my original comment; the largest, by number of members, teacher’s union is the NASUWT. The have a smaller London office but their HQ is is Rednal, on the very outer edges of Birmingham. Their General Secretary is at both sites on different days of the week.

    That it is 12:43 may have something to do it with it, but I am quite taken with Simon’s idea.

  • You might expect me to support Paul Holmes, coming as I do from Chesterfield. But importantly, my wife and I chose Chesterfield partly because we have a train service at least every hour to Norwich in the East, London and the SW, Liverpool and Manchester in the North West, Leeds and Newcastle and Edinburgh in the north. We bought a house at a reasonable price and can get to family in Newcastle and Paris – yes, Paris – quite easily. Our quality of life is different from Central London, that is sure: arguably better. Local Libdems would give an office a very warm welcome, and Libdems might become a less metropolitan party, for the good of all.

  • I’d back a move to Manchester, but moving deck chairs on the Titanic didn’t stop it hitting an iceberg. What’s the plan from the Party for modern party organisaton? Is there one?

  • Stephen Hesketh 5th Jan '16 - 9:11am

    I am very supportive of this idea.

    Manchester and Birmingham are both excellent options location/communication wise with good (for the UK) rail/road/air links.

    Manchester is closer to the geographical centre of the UK and has the BBC in Salford.

  • “I think it does need to be a biggish City to make sure we can attracts people with the skills we need.”

    What a great example of why the West Country (and I’m sure other less connected areas) suffer. Even when we had a significant number of South West MP’s in the Parties that made up the last Government our needs seem to be at the end of a very long list. How about turning it on its head and saying, base it in Plymouth or Truro to stop the brain drain towards the better connected cities. Who knows maybe if more significant organisations based themselves in the West we may get a train line that doesn’t fall into the Sea and has to slow to a walking pace to cross the Tamar.

    Anyway back to running a company, perhaps I should pass my highly skilled staff some pieces of straw to chew whilst we contemplate our betters in the “big” cities?

  • suzanne fletcher 5th Jan '16 - 10:32am

    understanding that Lib Dem work has to go on by volunteers
    that are geographically isolated;
    that are not able to talk to people at the centre by popping next door, or even calling in whilst in the area;
    that nobody bothers to set up such as skyping with to include…..
    can only be a good thing and end up with a party that works together rather than has instructions from the centre.
    wherever it is geographically

  • @Simon McGrath – Your response makes interesting reading, not for what says but for the insight into a mindset, which if representative of the ‘inner’ party should be causing members to worry.

    As others have pointed out, very few people actually live in London, the majority of workers actually live outside and commute in. (I laughed at the recent LDV article expressing “concern for “knackered” fife commuters“, having frequently had daily commutes of over 2 hours driving each way.) Hence, this reduces the need to be located in central London, something you also allude to by noting some people already work from home!

    I think your final point, namely: “it is much easier for the CEo to manage” is quite telling. As firstly, this suggests there are people within the party who want an old school CEO and organisation which is heavily London-centric (by old school I mean someone who missed out on the changes in business organisation that occurred in the 90’s, where we saw the rise of virtual organisations and working and the downsizing of corporate HQ’s). Secondly this gives cause for concern that perhaps having a team in one place actually permits the continued existence of a labyrinth party organisation since it enables informal consultations across organisational boundaries. So perhaps the best thing that could happen to the party is to move it out to a region and require the CEO and others to work differently, as it might encourage the party to throw out its rather opaque spaghetti structure and replace it with something more appropriate for the world we are moving into. [Aside: There is a rather interesting and relevant article I discovered by accident here http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/01/matthew-plummer-why-the-coming-boundary-reforms-spell-the-end-of-our-local-conservative-associations.html that gives an indication of just how dynamic the new constituency lanscape might be and its ramifications.]

    As I (and others) have said before, there is a need to pull apart the functions of the London office from the UK HQ and then make appropriate decisions, which may include a restructuring of the party into something more transparent and understandable to it’s members.

  • Bill le Breton 5th Jan '16 - 1:30pm

    At last, with the last 3 commentators we have had people beginning to challenge the very old structure which is hardly appropriate for the 20teens and certainly not appropriate the the Party as it is now.

    Suzanne reminds us it has to be something that works for the volunteers – the stars of our movement.

    Dave rightly reminds us that the advantage of a more virtual and less ‘physical’ organisation means that we can use people of merit in their communities. The best staff will need to be campaigners and that means they will need to remain in their communities, if at all possible.

    And Roland tells us that this is a unique time when we can start with a blank sheet of paper and pull things apart to examine every element in detail and place it against the modern world.

    The so called ‘professionalisation’ of the Party in the last 7 or 8 years has resulted in decline. Revival needs change at root and branch.

    We are at 6.5% in the polls and stuck fast there.

  • Tony Greaves 5th Jan '16 - 2:10pm

    I remember when the Liberal Party had to get out of its delightful little HQ at 36 Smith Square due to serious financial problems and an over-ambitious idea of accommodation needs and location. There was a move to go to cheaper accommodation “south of the river” which was met with horror. “That is what the National Liberals did and look at what happened to them.” We ended up in a commercial slum off The Strand.

    Simon McGrath is right for once! But not to another big city. Any well-connected small or medium town will do, and if the staff live there they will experience a huge improvement in their quality of life.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 5th Jan '16 - 2:11pm

    That was all circa 1968. I think.

  • Oliver Leonard 5th Jan '16 - 2:27pm

    How about the party HQ is moved to Kendal? eg Tim Farron’s own MP office – that way we don’t require an extra building for HQ office and have that as our new party policy where our HQ is located at our leaders constitutional office.

  • Andrew Martin 5th Jan '16 - 2:36pm

    Agree with a lot of what’s been said. It would be sensible to have a smaller office for a few party staff with a particularneed to stay in London, e.g. Press, with a separate HQ in another big city.

    Obviously I’d love for it to be in Manchester, England’s second city, but Birmingham might be a sensible option too, being closer to London and especially with HS2 on the way.

    Moving HQ could save a lot of money – not only on rent but in the medium and long term on salaries too!

  • David Allen 5th Jan '16 - 3:13pm

    Roland’s ConHome link deserves to be read and digested. After the boundary “reforms”, if they cannot be stopped this time:

    “Our traditional constituency identities will be much more fluid. Indeed, referring to constituency associations as ‘Tooting’ and so on will soon be archaic. … Our local leadership will be shaken up between every election, with association officers, star volunteers and local party bores suddenly finding themselves in different patches, with new relationships to forge.”

    “The post-2018 landscape will see constituency associations with five year lifespans, thrown together across municipal boundaries, with the aim of winning the next general election.”

    “The Boundary Commission’s consultation timelines will see the 2020 electoral map finalised in late 2018, leaving a year and a half to select candidates for all 600 seats and build campaign momentum …. This shorter campaign period will also help reduce the costs of standing for parliament – an unintentional positive – but the creation of new boundaries from scratch will make reselection of sitting MPs more competitive, as many of Labour’s Blairite wing are all too aware.”

    Oh, and by the way, the end of incumbency will also get rid of awkward independent people like Tim Farron and Caroline Lucas, who have built up a strong local following. It will degrade the role of an MP as a local champion. It will reduce interest in politics. All these things are part of the plan.

  • David Evershed 5th Jan '16 - 5:23pm

    Simon

    Where did you manage to find an organisation chart of HQ?

  • David Garlick 6th Jan '16 - 10:21am

    Northampton is pretty much in the centre of England with good access by road and rail. Before we get hung up on ‘where’, lets be certain of what our needs are and then we can look at how to best meet them be that in London or elsewhere. Home working (for some if not all) can be very productive and makes work much more accessible to carers and those with a disability

  • Stephen Bolter 1st Feb '16 - 2:41pm

    We need to maintain a meeting place in London. Like it or not, London is Britain’s rail transport hub. (We do not wish to encourage car and air travel and coach travel is generally slow.) Site a meeting place anywhere else and a large proportion of the attendees would have to travel into London and out again.
    I do not know how often MPs pop from the Palace of Wesninster to HQ, but if it is infrequently, then a small HQ in a cheaper part of London Zone 1 plus a back office neares Britain’s (mathematical) centre of population would be a possible solution.

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