The City can feel incredibly quiet at this time of year. We see nowhere near the usual number of daily commuters heading in and out of the Square Mile, as people set off early on their well-deserved Christmas break. But this provides us with an ideal opportunity to reflect on the year, and to consider what we want to see in 2015.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen some welcome news across the entire economy. Unemployment is down to 6 per cent, just last week we had confirmation that wages are rising at a faster pace than inflation, and we remain on track to be the fastest growing G7 economy this year.
And this growth is being driven to some degree by the financial and professional services sector. Employment in the sector is now above 2m. Our trade surplus in financial services is the biggest in the world, we have a buoyant IPO market, and the tax contribution made by financial services to the Treasury’s coffers accounts for 11.5 per cent of all receipts.
Two further developments in the last 12 months can be considered a success for the City. First, we’ve seen the growth of London’s offshore RMB business, including the appointment of China Construction Bank as the first RMB clearing bank outside Asia. Secondly, the early noises from the European Commission since its appointment – that its focus will be on jobs and growth – can only be encouraging.
But while, to the outsider, things might have seemed rosy on the surface, there have also been numerous challenges for the City over the past year. Continued economic worries emanating from the Eurozone have been a looming shadow and, closer to home, the Scottish referendum presented yet more uncertainty for our firms when it came to important investment decisions.
It is also fair to say that parts of the industry are still engulfed in scandal. Both public and media scrutiny has intensified over the year, given the behaviour of foreign exchange traders and problems in the Libor market prior to that. Clearly these allegations needed to be investigated and legal action needs to be taken if wrongdoing is proven.
So what can we hope for in 2015? “Business as usual” would be a start. With the only story in town next year being the general election in May, the City needs to speak up now for what it wants to see.
A new government that places an emphasis on jobs and growth should be right up there at the top of the list. Up-skilling our workforce to meet the demands of tomorrow, continued investment in important infrastructure projects like Crossrail 2, and increased devolution within England (including to and within London itself) should also be requests. A sensible, pragmatic solution to the $64m question of immigration, however, might be an ask too far.
Nevertheless, we can still look back on a positive year for the City in 2014. Here’s to hoping for the same in 2015.