One of the good things about the Rio Olympics, quite aside from the sport, is the fact that it reminds us of four years ago when we hosted the Games. It was a month of celebration and positivity for the whole UK, not just London, and it showcased the best that Britain has to offer.
My official title might be the lord mayor of London, but really, like the Olympics, it’s my duty to represent the entire country, particularly its financial and professional services, from John O’Groats to Land’s End.
I recently returned from Scotland, where I attended Invest Edinburgh, an event that highlighted the city’s prominence as the second largest financial centre in Britain, as part of a financial services sector that employs over 200,000 people in Scotland.
Scotland’s rich history of innovation, based on geniuses from Alexander Fleming to John Logie Baird, continues today. One in eight businesses in Edinburgh is found in the technology sector, with many specialising in the relatively new field of financial technology, or fintech.
Fintech has become a part of our everyday lives. Checking our bank balances online, buying things on the train, or having easy access to foreign exchange are just a few ways fintech has made finance more accessible.
London and Edinburgh’s growth as fintech hubs translates to growth and investment across the country. The UK’s fintech firms generated £20bn in revenue for the exchequer last year, and employ 60,000 people.
With its four universities and many other excellent educational establishments, Edinburgh reminded me of Silicon Valley, which is similarly well stocked with renowned colleges. And like Silicon Valley, Edinburgh is reaping the rewards: creativity, dynamism, ambition and an abundance of startups in growth industries.
This connection between academia and industry has been a reoccurring theme over my recent trips across the UK. Look at the development of graphene in Manchester, or the ambition of professor Chris Seir to develop a major new innovation lab in Leeds. Mixing ideas and investment will lead to more high quality jobs, greater efficiency and world-leading innovation, and it will ensure the UK continues to lead the world in advanced research and development.
But in order for this to happen, there needs to be investment in infrastructure and connectivity across the north of England and Scotland. People, as well as finance and ideas, need to be free and able to move from city to city and from town to town. Securing this will prove to the world that the entire country is open for business.
London has a huge part to play. It must work with regional partners across the UK, unlocking investment and utilising the diverse specialisms on offer in different regional hubs. This is the best way to accelerate the growth of exciting young sectors like fintech, as well as giving other professions a shot in the arm as well. The result will be growth, jobs and prosperity, distributed evenly across the length and breadth of Great Britain.