As our energy team finally closed its latest UK solar farm deal for a large Chinese manufacturing client – one of the biggest solar deals yet of the many we have recently completed - it was somewhat fitting that the reception facilities in our Colmore Row offices had a cosmopolitan feel to them throughout last week.
SGH Martineau was playing host to our international association, Multilaw, which is a close grouping of independent law firms comprising over 8,000 lawyers in over 150 commercial centres throughout the world.
As a member firm representing the UK, it was our pleasure as host to welcome 34 foreign lawyers, flying in from 26 countries around the world.
Whilst our London office reception team is quite used to welcoming delegations of overseas visitors, foreign lawyers descending en masse at our Birmingham HQ doesn’t happen every day.
The purpose of the two-day conference was to find ways for Multilaw to leverage the strength in depth and global breadth of its membership. Always a work in progress, the ultimate aim is to persuade global businesses that a vibrant network of carefully vetted law firms, each a leader in its own jurisdiction, is an attractive alternative to the monolithic US and City law firms with multiple offices around the world which (if they’re honest) are often of varying quality.
But for SGH Martineau, this was also a fantastic opportunity to showcase the city that has been our home for almost 200 years.
These visitors advise clients of all shapes and sizes, including many businesses and investors with a keen interest on doing business in the UK.
And with Birmingham recently named as the Start-up hotspot for the second year in a row, and the UK’s most investable city, there’s no shortage of positive messages to give. Look no further than #whybham – top 10 reasons to invest in Birmingham – put together by Marketing Birmingham.
Interestingly, PWC (with the Urban Land Institute) recently reported that international property investors are increasingly shunning London for the UK regions, and indeed the report placed Birmingham ahead of London in the 2015 rankings for Europe’s most attractive investment destination. Aside from the HS2 factor, of course, the key reason seems to be scarce opportunities and heavy competition in the London property market, and that’s certainly a trend our real estate lawyers (in both our offices) are currently seeing.
Back to our visitors, and I can report that the overriding impression of our city that they left with appeared to be a very positive one. That was despite parts of the city presently resembling something of a construction site, especially outside our own office where it seems to be taking an awfully long time to lay the Metro tram tracks. But we all know that construction cranes are a positive sign of growth and continued investment, and that message wasn’t lost.
The city is clearly buzzing with activity, and the locals were as welcoming as ever.
There were a couple of small disappointments, naturally. Although Birmingham might be emerging from London’s shadow as far as foreign investors are concerned, it might be some time before the city’s football teams again reach the heights and challenge the Premiership’s powerhouses. Our Indonesian colleague asked us to get hold of a ticket to watch a Premiership match during the weekend – but not much interest for Villa; the hot ticket was Liverpool.
We also had a few grumbles that Birmingham was not the easiest of cities to get to, with our Polish colleague from Warsaw especially surprised that it is impossible to fly direct to Birmingham Airport, from the capital of one of the most important countries in the EU.
Talking of flights, I started with energy and so that’s where I’ll end.
We’re seeing home energy tariffs begin to fall as the effect of falling world oil prices kicks in, in part due to the US shale boom. So why is it that the price of a direct flight to New York from Birmingham Airport appears to be the same now as it was when I last looked this time last year?
I thought we were seeing fares slashed and a 2015 holiday bonanza, and this trip will be economy with the family, and so it’s my own money I’m spending. Perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough – of course, everything is online these days, so I’ll get my teenage daughter on to it.
* Andrew Whitehead is the Senior Partner at Birmingham and London law firm SGH Martineau LLP.