Any day now, the glitter cannons will be fired and the corks popped as London reaches a new milestone, surpassing its 1939 population peak of 8.6m.
This isn’t just a number, it’s a validation of London’s success as the world’s business and talent hub, as well as a centre for creativity and innovation.
But even as this record is being broken, it’s crucial to remember that growth will not stop here. While 8.6m people calling themselves Londoners might sound impressive, the city’s population is slated to hit 10m by 2036.
We need to be asking urgent questions about how we plan for this growth. Last night, London First launched a major new report aimed at answering just such questions.
London 2036: An Agenda for Jobs and Growth is the most significant business-led consultation project ever undertaken to help secure sustainable long-term growth in a UK city. Carried out by London First for the London Enterprise Panel (the mayor’s business advisory body), it’s the result of a year’s work involving over 400 stakeholders.
It sets out a formula for the capital to achieve world-beating income growth, greater job opportunities than rival cities, a diverse and shock-proof economy, more homes and better transportation. And it should also help contribute towards more balanced economic growth across the UK.
The report highlights three core themes for successfully developing and safeguarding London’s economy.
First is the need to cement the city’s existing strengths as the world’s leading economic and business hub. This will require an increased focus on emerging markets, making sure we stay open for business – particularly in the face of growing anti-EU and immigration rhetoric – and secure improvements to our global connectivity through investment in air capacity.
Second, we need to fuel more diverse growth by capitalising on the city’s strengths in the technological and creative industries. This means improved digital connectivity, a big drive to develop more home-grown technical talent, and new ways to support rapidly-growing SMEs so they can realise their potential.
But we also need to look beyond technical skills and prepare for a wide-ranging skills drive, so that parts of London’s working population are not left behind in the high tech future that beckons. This will require active effort, as the capital’s attractiveness to international talent means market forces are unlikely to solve the problem alone.
Finally, we need to address the challenges to London’s basic foundations. We must see a dramatic increase in long-term infrastructure investment and house-building, something that would be much easier to achieve if more powers were devolved from central government to the capital.
This is a call to action for all of London, because no single body can meet all these challenges. We will look to the mayor, and indeed subsequent mayors, to help orchestrate this, but it will need support from business too.
So as London’s record-breaking baby arrives at a maternity ward near you, let’s remember that, in the next 20 years alone, another 1.5m pairs of feet from across the globe are set to follow in its little footsteps.