In my first official engagement as lord mayor outside the M25, visits to Liverpool and Manchester were ideal places to kick-start my programme for the year. While my time in each northern powerhouse city was limited, it helped to set my agenda for the forthcoming year.
Politicians love the term “rebalancing the economy”. It’s kept with their hard hats and fluorescent jackets, unpacked when they give speeches, interviews and photo opportunities outside the M25. But the phrase was also the leading topic of conversation in the roundtables and meetings that I held with our financial and professional services industry leaders in Manchester and Liverpool almost a fortnight ago.
London alone cannot build a robust, sustainable economy for the entire UK. It takes a collective effort across the country – and there are excellent reasons for businesses to consider a presence in a variety of our cities.
There are two particular reasons why these visits are so important.
First, these whirlwind trips act as listening shops. They provide a forum in which business leaders can talk about the issues that they face. These issues are often quite different from those encountered in the City. Take, for example, the proposed HS3 rail link, which businesses in the North West thought just as important as HS2 in terms of the consequential success of the region. After hearing those views, I am then able to communicate them to key decision-makers in government, arguing that improved transport infrastructure will boost productivity and growth – something we are well aware of in the capital, particularly with Crossrail continuing to burrow under us.
Another hot topic was the importance of making sure our local businesses work with schools and colleges, imparting their expertise and insight and helping prepare young people for their future careers. I look forward to passing on practitioner experience to legislators and decision-makers.
The second important reason behind these visits is that they provide invaluable intelligence for my overseas trips, during which I act as an ambassador for the whole of the UK’s financial and professional services industry. In the next 11 months, I will visit over 25 countries and speak to Prime Ministers, finance ministers, regulators and other important figures in key international markets. This allows me to sell the whole of the UK’s expertise in banking, law, accountancy, insurance and other industries – and not just the firms based in the City of London.
Having testimony – or even representatives – from regional businesses on these overseas visits means I can then connect them to the right people, open up new markets and support our economy better.
On my recent visit, for example, business leaders told me about the pool of over 100,000 graduates in the North West – young, skilled, eager people, with a can-do attitude, who would be a tremendous asset to any business that sets up shop nearby.
With a family background in shipbuilding, I know that when our leading cities pull in the same direction, our economy grows, jobs are created and the benefits are felt throughout the UK.