Grass really is greener in UK

I have just returned from a few weeks in the UK. In the three years since I left a gloomy and overcrowded Britain for these sun-kissed but increasingly impoverished shores, my old country has undergone many changes.

I have just returned from a few weeks in the UK. In the three years since I left a gloomy and overcrowded Britain for these sun-kissed but increasingly impoverished shores, my old country has undergone many changes.

It is "goodbye" to high unemployment and "hello" to dole queues at their shortest since the early 70s; now just 3.6% of the workforce, as against 6% to 7% here.

It seems IT is everywhere, with dot.com ads on the telly, in papers, on the buses and billboards. And almost everybody, it seems, now has a mobile phone.

Consequently, Britain is crying out for skilled workers, particularly in IT, where surveys show 80,000 vacancies could be left unfilled by 2003.

Now, its government is looking at a green card scheme, allowing skilled immigrants to stay for life, though it has dismissed reports that 100,000 such cards could be issued each year.

Even so, it has already begun fast-tracking the processing of work permits for certain skill categories, with IT dominant among them. By next March, the government aims to renew 80% of work permits within a week.

For those Kiwis considering working in the mother country, what does Britain, or indeed Europe, have to offer?

In the next few weeks, I will look at the opportunities for IT workers in places as far afield as Britain, Ireland and Germany, where Computerworld has already reported their various efforts to lure IT workers to their shores. And we should not forget California and the rest of the US, as well.

If you want to see what you might be worth overseas, please email your details to me outlining your skills and which country you want to work in. I will endeavour to contact employment agencies over there to assess what you are worth, just as we do for people wanting to see what they are worth here.

A copy of Computer Appointments (see www.it-opportunities.co.uk), which can be picked up from many British supermarkets, for example, reveals a broad range of opportunities and stated salaries.

As a taster, the September 1 issue includes jobs for Web developers offering œ35,000, senior java developers at œ50,000 plus benefits, and C/C++ technical architects also offering œ50,000-plus.

With a current exchange rate around $3.25 to the pound, these may seem like amazing salaries, but remember the cost of living is correspondingly dearer. London has been judged the world's most expensive city after Tokyo.

I spent a few days with friends in the capital and found one couple paying œ460 ($1600) a month for a poky, slummy one-bed flat in run-down Hackney, east London. Yet one of them earns œ40,000 ($130,000) a year.

They told me this was about the cheapest they could find as rents typically began at œ200 ($650) a week, but they were looking at moving closer to work as they were sick of the two to three hours a day spent commuting by bus and tube.

A former Wellington friend is taking home several thousand pounds a month but is struggling to pay the mortgage on a Croydon terrace house he bought over a year ago for œ90,000. However, he is happy to report it is now worth œ130,000. Another friend claims massive capital gains on his house near Watford, but he, too, is tiring of the long daily commute to his City PR office.

And we should not forget other costs of living in Britain. Food prices are frightening compared to New Zealand, the result of forking out for European Union farming subsidies rather than buying cheaper food on the world market. Rump steak, for example costs $25 to $40 a kilogram.

And then there is petrol at 86p ($3) a litre, three-quarters of which is tax; no wonder the Poms are protesting.

However, some things seem cheaper than in New Zealand, particularly if bought at one of the increasing number of out-of-town mega-malls. One I visited had until recently been the site of a Yorkshire coalmine.

Electrical goods have plummeted in price, along with clothes and household goods.

Having at least four competing mobile phone companies also means prepay mobiles can now be had for œ20 ($65), with calls for as little as a penny a minute. This helps explain why UK mobile phone ownership, at over 50%, now exceeds ours.

Of course, there are other things to consider about living on the other side of the world, such as the distance from family, but everyone has their own tale to tell and individual circumstances differ.

If you know of anyone who has recently gone overseas and might be willing to talk of their experiences, please let me know.

The more we can say on the subject, the better advice we can give. Maybe the streets of London are paved with gold, along with those of Dublin, Berlin, New York and the Silicon Valley.

Or, maybe, New Zealand is not such a bad place after all. At least, for now, we can buy bread, milk and petrol.

Please email your overseas "What am I Worth" requests and details of any friends/colleagues working abroad to darren- greenwood@idg.co.nz.

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