I returned last week from an eight-day business visit to the Gulf, during which I moved between Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Every lord mayor in recent memory has made a point of visiting the Gulf, not just because of its economic importance but because the City can support the region’s countries in their efforts to diversify their economies and move away from a reliance on oil. This is still very much a work in progress so I was keen to visit the Gulf early in the year, bringing with me an energetic delegation from the UK’s legal, investment management, insurance and building sectors.
With oil prices hovering around $30 a barrel and the outlook hardly rosy, it was certainly an interesting time to visit. Diversification was high on the agenda: as the price of oil falls, these countries are focusing more on expanding their private sectors, and they’re looking to encourage other non-oil based industries in order to future-proof their economies. The City stands ready to support them in this process, not only through innovative financing models, but also our expertise in insurance, law, education, qualifications and Islamic Finance, to name but a few.
In the UK, of course, we have had our own form of diversification, as we have had to reduce our reliance on the public sector, create jobs in the private sector, and rebalance our economy away from the financial centre in London.
Also high up on the agenda during my visit was a focus on an ever-closer partnership in the maritime and shipping sectors – something of which I am a keen advocate, having worked in the industry for over 40 years. Just reflecting on my time in Kuwait, I discussed with the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company and the Kuwait National Petroleum Company the fact that UK companies are world leaders in consultancy, IT, security, port management and logistics. I was also lucky enough to see first-hand some of the fantastic infrastructure projects in Dubai, like the new airport, the Jebel Ali Port and the grand Emirates Tower.
Finally, there was plenty of discussion around inward investment, and specifically how to encourage more of it from the Gulf States. Londoners will know all too well how investment from these nations has played a key role in creating the capital city we see today – the buildings we work in, the gleaming new London Gateway docks, the cable car over the Thames, and of course the 2012 Olympic Games. I want to see more of where those came from.
Gulf investment has helped to improve not only our infrastructure, but also our life sciences and our education sectors. We want to see our trade relationships flourish in the years to come, building on the groundwork that my predecessors and I have helped to lay down. The current market turbulence, and the subsequent emphasis on diversification, provides a superb opportunity to do just that.