Brexit making the UK a less attractive home for biggest global firms, warn bosses

19 septembre 2019
  • Global survey of large businesses reveals one in four open to moving their HQ but UK is only sixth most popular destination behind group of European powerhouses
  • UK firms are least satisfied with their current location - 92% are considering a move, with Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and the Netherlands the preferred destinations
  • Notable international perception that UK's political and economic stability is "poor" and a third say Brexit will negatively affect UK over longer term
  • But big opportunity ahead for UK to lure North American firms who still view British address highly favourably. Tech and insurance firms also bullish about UK's post Brexit future

Almost one in four (23%) global businesses are open to relocating their headquarters (HQ), but uncertainty over Brexit is having a significant impact on the UK's attractiveness as a home for big firms, according to new research from international law firm, Gowling WLG. A significant 41% said they wouldn't currently consider a move to the UK post-Brexit, instead rating Germany, Ireland and Switzerland as the top destinations.

With recent high profile HQ developments for Amazon, Unilever and Google hitting the headlines, the Gowling WLG report, HQ Sweet Spot: Where big businesses want to call home reveals the strategic plans for the most significant operations of more than 650 board level executives at large businesses across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas.

In addition to the risk of missing out on lucrative inward investment, the findings point towards the UK seeing a potential exodus of domestic businesses. A startling 92% of those surveyed that are currently headquartered here are weighing up the benefits of an overseas move - Ireland ranks as the most popular destination option for more than half (54%) of these firms, followed by Germany (33%), the Netherlands (31%) and Luxembourg (23%).

A significant number of senior executives around the world rated the political and economic stability of the UK as 'poor' - a perception also shared by the majority of board directors within UK-based firms. As things stand, the UK is rated as only the sixth most favourable European country to locate an HQ.

Top global HQ Relocation Spots

Pos. Country % of respondents who would consider a move there GDP in $trillions (rankings) - Source: IMF
1. Germany 46% 4,416,800 (4)
2. Ireland 39% 409,225 (32)
3. Switzerland 39% 779,327 (19)
4. Netherlands 35% 994,771 (17)
5. France 30% 3,060,070 (6)
6. United Kingdom 24% 3,022,580 (7)
7. Singapore 22% 367,783 (38)
8. Australia 21% 1,581,890 (14)
9. Japan 16% 5,362,220 (3)
10. United States 15% 21,410,230 (1)

More than a third (35%) of global business leaders believe that post-Brexit, the UK will be a less favourable HQ location in the long-term. However, bosses in Brazil, Canada and the US are most upbeat about the enduring cachet of a UK business address and the most likely to consider relocating to Britain.

When asked to rank a broad range of features from availability of talent and digital infrastructure through to political and economic stability in their current location, business leaders in France, Singapore, Switzerland and Japan were the most satisfied and least likely to consider moving. Conversely, those in the UK, Canada and Brazil were the least satisfied with their current home and among the most likely to consider upping sticks.

Sector-wise[1], Germany is the top location for manufacturing, financial services and automotive firms whereas Ireland scores highly among retail, leisure and food and drink businesses. The Netherlands is seen as the best location for electronics businesses, while Switzerland, the UK and Singapore are favoured by insurance giants. Overall, the greatest appetite to move is evident among insurance, automotive, financial services and retail and leisure businesses. Separately, tech and insurance businesses expressed the greatest confidence in the UK continuing to be a favourable HQ location over the longer-term post Brexit.

Commenting on the findings, Richard Bate, head of real estate at Gowling WLG, said:

"The UK patently remains a strong force in the market to attract the world's biggest HQ relocations but our research shows that Brexit is leading global bosses to strongly consider other European alternatives.

"Chief among the reasons for settling on a global HQ location, as you would expect, money still talks. But choosing the perfect HQ location is about so much more than a hefty financial incentive package.

"When asked what measures the UK could take to improve its attractiveness as an HQ location after Brexit, a clear message from bosses for policymakers emerged: reduce business regulation, improve access to talent, develop a more favourable tax regime and improve transport links.

"Our research also reveals the importance of the location basics, from sourcing suitable buildings to excellent digital and transport infrastructure. Indeed, many of our respondents favour destinations offering high quality real estate - an area where the UK excels.

"Against this backdrop, a swift resolution to the Brexit impasse and the right policy changes once we have finally exited the EU are essential to enable Britain to take a bigger slice of the HQ market, particularly among North American firms and those beyond Europe."

Download our report to find out more.

About the research

The research was carried out by Yolo Communications during the second quarter of 2019. The sample comprised 652 c-suite personnel in companies with 1000+ employees across 13 countries.

All research conducted adheres to the UK Market Research Society (MRS) Code of Conduct (2014).

Yolo Communications is registered with the Information Commissioner's Office and complies with the DPA.

[1]The research was conducted among a general business audience, which included respondents from the following sectors:

  • Automotive
  • Chemicals
  • Construction
  • Education
  • Electronics
  • Energy / utilities / mining
  • Film / entertainment / music
  • Financial services
  • Food / drink / hospitality
  • Healthcare
  • Insurance
  • Internet / IT & telecoms
  • Life sciences
  • Manufacturing / materials
  • Public sector
  • Retail / leisure
  • Services

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