Future-proofing society

Is the brain drain going into reverse?

With young professionals eager to relocate to coast and countryside there is an opportunity to regenerate the places most in need of levelling up, according to Legal & General research

24 Jan 2022

Meet our experts

Sir Nigel Wilson

Group Chief Executive Officer (2012 - 2023)

When it comes to levelling up, the real divide is not between north and south, but between local authorities, according to the latest Rebuilding Britain Index (RBI), The Great British Migration.

The RBI, which tracks the UK’s social and economic progress against 52 measures on a quarterly basis, found that relatively little separates the UK regions and nations, with London achieving the highest RBI score (66/100) and Wales the lowest (62/100).

But looking at a local authority level reveals pockets of deprivation across the country, with a much wider gap between top and bottom performers. Thanet (53/100), Hastings (55/100), Tendring (55/100) and Oldham (55/100) received the lowest RBI scores in the UK, significantly less than the top three local authorities of Wokingham (75/100), Kensington & Chelsea (75/100) and Trafford (73/100).

These disparities are seen right across the UK and are heavily concentrated around coastal and rural authorities, which comprise almost all of the poorest performing authorities.

Within regions too there are big disparities. The South East, for example, is home to half of the top-10 scoring local authorities, but also the three lowest scoring.

These findings demonstrate that levelling up means thinking local.

“The more geographically granular we can be when looking at left-behind communities, the more we identify where the real targeted efforts are required to make the greatest impact on levelling up,” says Nigel Wilson, CEO at Legal & General.

The great migration

The report, published in January 2022, also found that a great migration of people is under way, providing an opportunity for some of those left-behind communities and for socially responsible investing.

In the year to January 2022, 11% of people across the UK have relocated to a different part of the country, enabled in part by new working patterns. While this has not yet resulted in a significant net movement away from any one UK nation or region, that could all change.

Across the whole of the UK as many as 19% of people are planning to relocate to a different part of the UK within the coming year, says the report, and in London the figure is 35%. This would represent what the RBI report describes as “an unprecedented shift in the UK adult population with over 10 million moving to different regions”.

While 5% have already got the process under way, time will tell whether the bigger shift occurs. But an above average level of migration can certainly be expected.

Young and free to move

The detailed analysis in the report reveals that appetite for relocating – whether inside or outside of someone’s region – is far higher among the younger, more highly educated and higher earning population, currently living in more built-up urban areas. In particular, those employed within scientific, digital and financial industries are far more likely to be interested in relocating compared with the national average.

The motivating factors for younger age groups wanting to move away from densely populated urban areas were a desire for simpler lifestyles, more affordable and better-quality housing, a cleaner environment, more space and a better quality of life.

Young professionals wanting to move away from urban centres could result in the regions vying to attract and retain talent in sectors that will be vital for the UK economy post-Brexit, helping to redistribute wealth and skills.

There is an opportunity for all regions here and relocations do not always mean moving to a different part of the country. Those planning to relocate from their local area within Scotland and Yorkshire & Humber, for example, are far more likely to move within the region than outside of it.

Push and pull factors play out differently across the UK. In the North-East of England, 67% of those considering relocating want to move out of the region, driven in part by its low score for jobs and economic prosperity. Whereas in Wales, which has a similar score on economic prospects, only 40% of those planning a relocation want to leave the country altogether.

The more geographically granular we can be when looking at left-behind communities, the more we identify where the real targeted efforts are required to make the greatest impact on levelling up.

Nigel Wilson


Legal & General

A coastal renaissance?

Looking at the net difference between people moving into and out of regions, London sees a 5% drop in population in the next 12 months, suggesting new working patterns and personal priorities could pushing some people away from the capital. Conversely, the South West sees a 4% increase, with its strong score on the environment a possible pull factor. Indeed, 20% of people planning to relocate are motivate by wanting to live somewhere with a clean environment.

Wanting to live in the countryside or by the coast was an equally big driver (21%). While looking for a lower cost of living (20%) and better or more affordable housing (19%) were also important factors.

For those towns, cities and regions hoping to attract younger workers specifically, anticipating their infrastructure needs will be key, says the report, which highlights apartments and starter homes, sports and leisure facilities, as well as access to the digital economy as key.

Levelling up

As people revaluate where and how they want to live, a largescale migration of skilled workers from cities like London into coastal and rural communities is an opportunity for the UK to level up. However, our findings show that the local infrastructure required to make these behaviour changes permanent or sustainable is not yet in place. Improving access to housing, health, digital connectivity, transport and education services will be key to regenerating these areas.

Joining up coastal and rural communities with their major local centres through better connectivity will be central to achieving this, according to our research.

Nigel Wilson has called for the UK to adopt an approach that empowers the wider regions and devolved nations of the UK to ensure that targeted regional investment can support in addressing need at a local level. This means, for example, using the investment pull of Trafford and Salford, in the North West of England, to deliver infrastructure and connectivity improvements for areas such as Oldham and Burnley.

“Devolution, and the creation of Metro Mayors, is already adding to the attractiveness of the UK as a place to invest. Connectivity and infrastructure will be key factors, both in retaining and attracting industry but also in retaining and attracting a workforce, particularly as the UK begins to embark on a new wave of post-pandemic migration,” says Wilson.

In cities such as Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham, Metro Mayors have not only promoted urban renaissance, but they are also building connectivity, joining up local authorities and creating more opportunities for economic and social development on a regional basis. “This process should remain the centrepiece in any future Levelling Up agenda,” concludes the report.