View from City Road: London is a regional financial centre, too

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The Independent Online
It is not surprising that a survey of Europe's second-rank financial centres by Manchester Business School ends up moaning about the dominance of London.

Because the City is a magnet for the financial industry, other UK financial centres are losing out, it says.

In fact, the three UK regional centres in the study - Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh - perform passably against their counterparts in Europe, excluding obvious magnets for finance such as London, Frankfurt and Paris.

The survey finds Barcelona's international reputation is best, followed by Brussels and Edinburgh, with Manchester fifth and Birmingham seventh. And though all three UK centres are dwarfed in banking by London, they perform a little better in some other financial services - for example, Birmingham in accountancy.

Professor Douglas Wood of MBS says the trend to centralisation is seen throughout Europe, and he reckons London does not always gain by squeezing regional rivals. Some stronger regional companies may take their business to the Continent rather than to the capital.

Professor Wood argues that there should be better promotion of regional centres as a solution. There is everything right with that. Look what a high-profile job Glasgow has done selling itself as a business and cultural package. (Why wasn't it included in the survey with Edinburgh?)

But there are two difficulties with the usual complaints about the City's financial dominance. The first is that it is probably too late to do anything serious about it. The regions sold the pass long ago when, with the honourable exception of Edinburgh, their banks were mopped up to produce our vast and over-centralised clearers. The second objection is that the City itself is merely the largest of a series of regional centres in the new single European market - and it faces a fight for its life.

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