If you’re looking to put down new roots after a career in the Forces, then the south of England is definitely worth considering. A reasonable commute to London and other key cities such as Birmingham and Bristol, the south has long been a magnet for business and a wide range of employers who could benefit from the transferrable skills Service-leavers can offer.
By Alison Dando
We’ve taken a look at two booming cities: Oxford and Milton Keynes. Both have been creeping up the UK’s fastest growing cities list and offer many opportunities for ex-Service personnel and their families looking for a fresh start.
This stunning city is about much more than its famous university, it offers a high-quality lifestyle that attracts over seven million visitors every year. According to research gathered by law firm, Irwin Mitchell, Oxford is the UK’s fourth fastest growing city, meaning that employment rates are high, with transferrable job opportunities in the health, education and tech sectors.
It goes without saying that education and academia are crucial to the city, but they are not the only significant employers. Other major players include publishing, tourism and hospitality as well as the burgeoning tech sector. BMW, Unipart, Oxford Radcliffe Hospital NHS Trust, and Oxfordshire County Council are among the city’s top employers – as is the University of Oxford.
Oxford is a good place to work – currently at 3.1%, the city’s unemployment rate is below the 4.3% national average with an estimated workforce of around 118,000 people. And this workforce is well-educated and skilled – latest figures show that over 60% of Oxford’s residents are qualified to NVQ level 4 or above, almost double the average rate for England (36%). Employees in the Oxford area can also expect an above the national average annual salary of just under £30,000 (salary figures from: www.payscale.com).
Inevitably, there’s a price to pay for living in such a beautiful city, with the typical price for a three bedroom house touching £400k. But the city council has just embarked on a five-year housing strategy to improve the availability of affordable homes which should see greater choice by 2022. Renting is the norm, with Oxford having one of the largest private rental sectors in the South East. The average weekly rent for a three bedroom house is £300 per week.
However, house prices outside the city and in the surrounding areas do drop to a more reasonable level and, as Oxford has excellent commuter and transport routes, this is certainly an option if you are looking to relocate.
The city of spires is dominated by the oldest university in England and certainly one of the most iconic. The University of Oxford is made up of 38 colleges, with their academic credentials felt throughout the city. But if you are looking to upskill or even retrain, then Oxford offers many opportunities, with a good supply of further education and community colleges in and around the city. For the kids, there’s also a great choice of 22 Osfted top rated schools in the area.
Oxford offers an exceptional quality of life, especially for families with so much to do outdoors, it’s the definitive cycling city after all! With its history, parks and museums there’s enough to keep you entertained: top of our list are Britain’s oldest botanical gardens, the Modern Art Oxford gallery and a tour of Oxford Castle. And, being a top student city, there is a vibrant nightlife and arts scene.
Created as one of a raft of new towns back in 1967, Milton Keynes was originally designed to take the pressure off the housing congestion in London, just 45 miles away.
Leap forward 50 years and you have a thriving urban area in the heart of Buckinghamshire. Yet to get official city status, it is very much a city in everything but name. Milton Keynes continues to grow in size and economic status and is currently listed as the UK’s second fastest growing city and one of the top 10 cities in which to work.
With the economic growth and investment forecast for Milton Keynes, the employment opportunities look bright for anyone looking to relocate to the town. The range of employers are diverse and could be attractive to ex-Service personnel looking to transfer their skills or retrain.
The main employment sectors in and around Milton Keynes span retail, manufacturing, auto-trade, education, health and transport, science and technology and administration. Thanks to its proximity to London and excellent transport routes, Argos, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Red Bull Racing, Network Rail and Yamaha Kemble have all chosen Milton Keynes as the location for their UK headquarters.
The town has also been recognised as a ‘hotspot’ for new start-up companies and emerging technologies, having been ranked eighth in the UK Tech Innovation Index 2017.
Unemployment rates in MK are on a par with the national average but the city has also seen some of the UK’s highest growth in employment over the last few years. The town currently has an estimated full-time workforce of over 142,000 and the average salary comes in at £27,250, that’s just above the national average.
Demand for housing in Milton Keynes has had a boost, thanks to the re-energised city and the boom in new businesses moving in, meaning prices have increased over the last few years.
The average price for a three-bed property is now around £310,000, with prices decreasing as you move away from the centre. Milton Keynes was built on a grid system and, while it has rapidly grown and spread over the years, it is still relatively easy to get around, so you can still get to the centre for work quite easily from the suburbs. And all new house building projects are to include affordable housing, largely to cater for the expected population increase over the next 10 years. Private rental is widespread too, with the average monthly rental for a family house coming in at around £1,000.
Although yet to get its own university, there is a higher education institute linked to the University of Bedfordshire, with the long-term aim to convert it to the city’s own academic hub. In the meantime, the city offers plenty of opportunity to learn and retrain, including Milton Keynes College which offers a wide range of academic as well as vocational and professional courses, up to degree level. (See: www.mkcollege.ac.uk) It’s also home of the renowned Open University.
There’s also a choice of 110 primary and secondary schools for younger members of the family.
Don’t be put off by the ‘new town’ tag, Milton Keynes may not have the history and heritage, but it does have plenty of leisure activities on offer, as well as an exciting arts scene and nightlife. With the borough of Milton Keynes covering 119 square miles, you are never more than half a mile from a park, so that’s plenty of space to get out with the kids. It has its fair share of attractions too – visits to nearby Bletchley Park (home of the Enigma codebreakers), Treetop (the UK’s biggest high rope adventure course), indoor ski slope, SnoZone, the curious Milton Keynes museum and the MK art gallery are all a must on your days off.