With less than four months to go to the London mayor election, it’s good news that all the main candidates have been keen to stress their support of business. Despite its reputation as a leading business centre, London cannot take its position as a truly global city for granted.
London’s reputation has been hard won and can easily be lost. All candidates need to realise that the capital’s formidable growth should not just be about the City of London and attracting inward investment, very welcome though these areas are.
One of the crucial areas where work must continue is on helping London’s businesses expand abroad - especially its highly ambitious, entrepreneurial, mid-market businesses.
Mid-market businesses are essential for London’s growth. They cover a range of sectors and employ nearly two million people in the capital.
So when the chancellor George Osborne talks about rebalancing the UK economy, part of the solution has to be to promote the needs of the mid-market and help these businesses expand abroad.
This means supporting businesses as they grow from strong domestic scale-ups to successful exporters to international businesses.
So what should be done?
Today the current mayor (alongside London and Partners) is launching a new initiative – the mayor’s International Business Programme.
Over three years, 300 high growth London businesses will be selected to receive help in expanding abroad with mentors, targeted trade missions and practical support.
The programme is open to fast growing, revenue generating companies in three broad sectors: technology, life sciences and urban specialist companies.
While it’s good that London is taking the initiative there is also a role for central government too. BDO’s New Economy report – which sets out the policies needed for a truly sustainable and balanced economy with the mid-market at its heart – calls for additional support.
Firstly we’d like to see a zero-rating of VAT for companies that supply exporters. The UK currently allows manufacturers to zero rate their exports. However, it is less generous with relief for domestic companies that supply to UK exporters. And we would like to see less red tape for companies that grow abroad so that policy objectives can be achieved at minimum cost to mid-sized businesses.
Since it was set up, City Hall has always been supportive of business and London has thrived as a result.
But complacency cannot be allowed to set in. Whoever holds the keys to City Hall in May, the momentum must continue.