Midlands could 'face jobs exodus'

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The Independent Online

The Midlands could become an expanse of ghost towns if residents had the opportunity to move, a survey released today claims.

Three quarters of the region's population would relocate tomorrow if they could, while Scotland, Wales, London and the South West would be inundated with new arrivals.

The survey, by mobile phone company Orange, asked office workers across Britain whether they would move if access to broadband internet was available to all by 2015 - as outlined in the Government's Digital Britain report.

Orange claims the population map of the UK would be transformed overnight, with 81 per cent of those asked in the West Midlands and 70 per cent in the East Midlands saying they would flee to the coast or countryside, if only there was universal high-speed internet access.

Population levels in Yorkshire and the North East would also plummet by 35 per cent, while the South West would see a 158 per cent rise, the survey suggests.

Major cities such as Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester would see four in five residents disappear, while Scotland's population would rise by 58 per cent.

London would see the biggest influx, with the city's streets bolstered by 40 per cent more people, while in Wales there would be a 5 per cent rise.

Robert Ainger, Orange's UK Director of Corporate Marketing, said the digital revolution would change social and work dynamics across the country.

He said: "Much like the industrial revolution, the digital revolution we are currently going through will forever change the way we all lead our lives - not just from a social perspective, but the way we work and the places we can work from.

"The long-entrenched domination of the South East in Britain's economic structure could at last be coming to a close, with many workers wanted to trade their city lives to work from more rural and idyllic parts of the country.

"Our report reveals that a digitally connected country could change the face of Britain as we know it."

But the report's claims were met with bemusement from some quarters.

John Lamb, of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said the second city was "not expecting a mass exodus", laughing off the idea that its busy streets would empty.

"It seems rather odd that Orange predict there would be a collective ghost town with tumbleweed rolling down Broad Street," he said.

"We are not taking this too seriously.

"All surveys can be extrapolated to take what you want from them. It is obviously a bit divisive.

"Birmingham is one of the most wifi-enabled cities in the country. The West Country is very nice, but it is not the epicentre of the business world.

"Generally, everyone would like to work in a utopia. Birmingham is not a utopia, but where is?"

The report, which surveyed 3,281 UK office workers, also showed businesses could save over £30 billion by giving employees more flexibility in where they worked.

This was because 16 per cent of respondents would be prepared to take a pay cut and many more would be willing to give up perks such as a company car or private health insurance.



This is the full list of the hypothetical population shifts, by region, that the report claimed would occur:

Scotland - up 58 per cent

North East - down 35 per cent

North West - down 9.5 per cent

Yorkshire and The Humber - down 35 per cent

West Midlands - down 81 per cent

East Midlands - down 70 per cent

Wales - up 5 per cent

South West - up 158 per cent

South East - down 3 per cent

London - up 40 per cent

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