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What London business needs from its mayor

Ahead of the election for London mayor in May, former LSCA President Malcolm Bacchus sets out his own manifesto for the capital’s business, tackling the skills and infrastructure vital for all companies, large or small.

Malcolm Bacchus

March 2020

The London mayoral election is probably the last thing on people’s minds at present. Despite that election now only being three months away, it has been relatively low profile to date.

But the mayor has powers over a wide range of strategy and services affecting Londoners and London business: housing, the environment, transport, emergency services, policing, skills and economic development generally and so the mayor is fundamental to how London succeeds or fails as a business centre.

While news focus is often on the large corporations which create so much of the City’s wealth, small businesses are often forgotten even though they account for nearly 50% of the capital’s employment and are vital to providing the services that we all, and those large corporations, need to survive.

The interconnectivity between both cannot be forgotten; smaller businesses, after all, suffer disproportionately when the wider London economy is depressed. But with London’s economy so interconnected with the rest of the world, there is nevertheless much the mayor do for business.

Keeping London attractive to companies and their employees is top of the agenda, particularly in the post-Brexit world. At a national level this means ensuring that London’s priorities remain in the minds of central government negotiating trade (and most importantly service) agreements with both the EU and the rest of the global community.

It means ensuring that we have the skills and infrastructure for those businesses to grow. It means ensuring there is suitable accommodation for their owners and employees and good public transport so they can get about their business.

In almost every survey of London business, skills, housing and transport come top of the list and these are unlikely to change, although individual priorities may shift.

High on list, too, comes quality of life. London has been attractive, not only because it is a financial capital, but because of its culture and environment: parks, gardens, museums, theatres, world class music and a huge heritage.

And despite a worrying increase in crime, it is still one of the safest cities in the world. Mayoral policy somehow needs to juggle with retaining this quality of life while still meeting the changing needs for growth.

Another concern, particularly for smaller businesses and communities, is the frequently mentioned death of the high street. This often favours the larger organisation but also has other ramifications, not least on transportation.

Look, therefore, for further policies on regeneration of the high street, possibly its re-invention, and continuing lobbying over business rates and, more generally, how London is funded.

The current London mayor, Sadiq Khan, said that he would be the best mayor for business when he was elected. Whether he has been, or not, will be for Londoners as individuals to decide – businesses do not have a vote – but London business ensures that London and Londoners survive, and whoever is the next mayor will need to take their interests into account.

Malcolm Bacchus is a former President of the London Society of Chartered Accountants.

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