Last week there was a report in the local paper about Nestlé moving their HQ from Croydon to Crawley. I was quite stunned by this for several reasons. One is that the local papers have been full of ‘jam tomorrow’ stories about businesses moving into the area lately. These stories herald everything as a done deal when they still speculative or aspirational. Some of them might still happen, but very little is guaranteed. I have lost track of the number of proposed uses for the site nest to Thales or the one behind Pets At Home, Ikea were said to be considering three different sites but have now gone very quiet, and John Lewis continue to tease.
By contrast Nestlé have made a formal announcement with a target for completion by the end of this year. I know from recent experience that it can take a year to plan such a move (actually it can easily take a lot more than that) so this is going to happen. They must already be drawing up plans, starting staff consultations and ordering 18 miles of CAT-5 cables. So what does all this mean for the local economy of Crawley, or should that now be Crawlé?It would be easy to get swept away in a wave of hyperbole, in fact the Crawley News might already have done that. Their story talks about the company “bringing 1000 jobs to the town” though other sources like the Croydon papers, the BBC and Nestlé’s press release all refer to the move of 840 office-based staff.
Will that mean more jobs for local residents? In the short term it may not. With a move of only 22 miles between two locations joined by a straight road and an even straighter railway line in a time of recession I reckon most Croydon-based staff will make the move. Quite a few might even live here or in places closer to here than to Croydon, and for them it will be an easy choice.
Those living in Croydon have a slightly harder choice but I think they will make the move. During relocations a proportion of staff take the opportunity to take redundancy, especially if they are near retirement. With such a short move that might not even be on the table for them. My company moved a site of 200 people from London to Crawley the other year and quite a lot of them did move even though it was nowhere near as convenient. Some of them faced an extra hour or more travelling. From Croydon it is only about 15 minutes by train to Gatwick with dozens of rush hour trains.
Very few people will find the change in location a real struggle, except financially for those on low wages who would find an extra £50 a month a burden. Even then they might find it cheaper to move if they are renting in Croydon.
There will be some new jobs though. All those cleaners, security guards, and other support staff are probably contracted out and it is possible Nestlé will just enter into new contracts with local firms for the new premises. So initially there will be a slight boost for anybody local looking for lower-paid jobs.
There might be a bit of a boost for local shops, cafes, pubs and other places but nowhere near as much as the negative effect on Croydon. The current building is pretty close to lots of local places that will lose a lot of business but the new building is quite isolated up near the airport. True the staff could jump on a Fastway into town, but mostly they won’t. I work on Manor Royal and very few people from there go into the town centre at lunchtime.
In the longer term it means that anybody looking for a job in accounting, HR, IT and other areas will one more major employer they can apply to, one more chance to ply their trade without having to suffer the commute into London and that has to be good.
I don’t think the benefits will be as large or as quick as the out-and-out optimists or Crawley council’s economic development press releases will imply but it will be a positive impact. And it means that the next time they get involved in child labour controversies or buying milk from Mugabe’s wife the Crawley lefties will have a shorter distance to travel for protests. On the other hand, with so many PR disasters behind them the company may well go on a charm offensive with all sorts of local sponsorships.
The most significant impact could be on traffic around the airport, depending on how many of those 840 (or 1000) people intend to drive to work.
The big question is whether the signs at Gatwick station get changed. As any seasoned commuter knows, the station signs at East Croydon all proudly say “East Croydon – home of Nestlé”. Obviously that will have to change, but will they want to do the same here? Or will they see how it goes first?
I’d be interested to know what the staff think about it all. Are they looking forward to it? Dreading it? One word of comfort for them, it may be that the move to a modern building can offset some of the pain.