Millions of Londoners will have the opportunity today to vote for a new mayor. And when it comes to business and the financial sector, this election matters.
London is an established global leader in business services and international finance. We are also a growing force in newer industries such as tech, low carbon and life sciences. But if we are to stay competitive, increase productivity and make the most of opportunities for growth, we cannot rest on our laurels.
Regrettably, rather than putting forward any positive policies or a pro-business agenda, Zac Goldsmith has decided to focus his energy on running a negative campaign. Meanwhile, his determination to see Britain out of Europe would do irreparable damage to London’s competitiveness.
In contrast, I have focused on setting out how I will be the most pro-business mayor London has ever had.
From day one, my approach will be to form a true partnership with business. I will take an active role in helping to break down the obstacles holding London’s firms back and affecting their competitiveness. As someone who helped to run and grow a business before becoming a MP, I know the challenges many in the business community face and the importance of politicians working closely with business.
That’s why engagement with business – from startups to multinational corporations – will become a central part of decision-making in City Hall. By setting up a Business Advisory Board made up of real experts, I’ll make sure I get valuable and honest input on policy and infrastructure planning and a full picture of the capital’s challenges.
The greatest challenge for the whole of London, including the business community, is the housing crisis. Employees are being forced to live further and further away from their workplace, rent on business premises is rising year-on-year, and affordable business space for startups is limited. One of my key priorities will be to implement a step change in new affordable housing supply, both to rent and to buy, while exploring incentives for businesses to provide investment in new homes which could benefit their workforce.
Like affordable places to live, space in which to do business is becoming increasingly hard to find, especially for startups and small businesses looking to expand. I will ensure the provision of more commercial space in new developments, and even affordable live-work units. Our small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs are at the heart of our economy and our communities, and supporting them to grow, innovate and create wealth and jobs will be central to my plans.
Many businesses also tell me about the difficulty they face in finding the skills they need among the London workforce. I will establish a Skills for Londoners taskforce to ensure we train more Londoners in the skills needed in our economy. Through this initiative, I will establish a tech talent pipeline with more young people enabled and encouraged to gain key skills. This city gave me many opportunities to get on and I want all aspiring entrepreneurs and young Londoners interested in business to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
But perhaps the biggest potential issue facing London’s businesses is the prospect of the UK leaving the EU. Whoever is elected mayor will play an influential role in June’s referendum. Unlike Zac Goldsmith, I believe our interests clearly lie with Britain remaining in Europe and, as mayor, I will do everything I can to persuade Londoners that we are better off staying in.
As Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary and EU trade commissioner, said recently, if Britain votes to leave the EU, it would be a direct threat to London’s growth and jobs. It could mean years of uncertainty for businesses as we wait for bilateral trade deals, higher export and import costs, and could put the City’s status as Europe’s financial capital at risk.
Over the past few months I’ve met regularly with business leaders and industry bodies, from the CBI, City of London Corporation and the Institute of Directors, to London First, the Federation of Small Businesses and Tech UK. As mayor, I will work with all of these groups and many others to deliver the infrastructure and skills the capital needs, campaign for increased aviation capacity in London, and champion London at home and abroad.
Today, Londoners have a clear choice – someone who aims to divide London, or me, a mayor who will unite London and be the most pro-business mayor yet.
London has one of the most diverse, outward-looking workforces in the world, with talented people from different backgrounds and countries working together. Let’s build on this open, striving spirit and work together to advance London’s status as a world leader for business, finance and creativity.