Recession-hit London courts New York

The politics of property, with Steven Norris
Boris crossed the pond last week in his role as London’s cheerleader-in-chief. Our mayor was in New York ringing the opening bell for the NASDAQ, the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange and having his photo taken in Times Square, all in time-honoured fashion.

He had travelled to New York to promote London as the best city in the world in which to do business. Given the extent to which New York vies with London for that title it was a brave strategy, but Boris knows how significant inward investment is for London and how crucial it is that America’s business leaders understand the potential for investment here.

Getting overseas business to invest in London is one of the capital’s success stories. Think London, which is the public and private not-for-profit organisation that has made much of it happen, is chaired by Ian Barlow of KPMG, whom I rate very highly, and has Michael Charlton, who has a proven record of success in the inward investment field, as chief executive.

They aim to hold any incoming business’s hand through finding suitable accommodation, recruiting key staff and overcoming migration and employment issues.

Because they are funded by a range of bodies that include the London Development Agency, UK Trade & Investment and London First, they also provide all this free.

A city with plenty to offer

London has already been voted the top European city for business 19 years on the trot, but sceptics argue that the credit crunch may have knocked it off its pedestal.

The UK economy has certainly taken a knock over the last two years but, in many ways, that has made London’s offer more compelling. Exchange rates have made the capital a much more competitive city for those with dollars or euros. There is more choice of prime office space and more opportunity to recruit high-quality home-grown staff.

And, while the financial City may struggle to reassert itself in the new world order, London still has a huge amount to offer.

The UK as a whole produces the best television in the world. The advertising and marketing industries thrive in Britain, especially in the most cosmopolitan, lively and exciting city on earth, where culture, cuisine and creativity combine to create a place that perhaps only visitors fully appreciate.

While we Londoners grumble about crime and grime, London is still a place where the police don’t carry guns.

It is home to more of the world’s top 100 universities than any other city. We have fantastic high-tech medical facilities and low-cost fast internet connection. London is the world’s most wireless city.

Four of the top six law firms are centred here and we are still home to more US banks than New York.

But inward investors also care about how their success is rewarded. This is where the national government still has a dominant role in setting the tax and labour environment with which business has to work.

The sad irony is that, while the capital strains every sinew to encourage global business here, Gordon Brown seems intent on driving it away. For example, tax on high earnings is increasing as labour laws become more restrictive. This is massively unhelpful.

Yet again, our prime minister needs to decide whether he really wants London to be a thriving capital city. Assuming he does, the big change needs to come not from City Hall, but from Downing Street (Steven Norris, Property Week)


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