I have spent much of the past year speaking to employees, employers and entrepreneurs from across this great country. In December I went to Northern Ireland, in March to Scotland, in July to the North of England, and last week to Bristol and Cardiff – 12 UK cities in total.
After each of these trips I felt invigorated by the enterprising and innovative work going on in those places. Now, towards the end of my time as lord mayor and having visited every part of the UK, I can say with real conviction that I am hugely optimistic about our future prosperity.
Professional and financial services are the UK’s economic Crown Jewels. They contributed £66.5bn in taxes last year, and provide 2.2m jobs, the overwhelming majority of which are outside London. With Brexit on the horizon, we need to make sure that we support these industries that will be so vital to our ongoing prosperity.
As lord mayor, I am an ambassador and spokesman for financial and professional services across the UK, not just in London. I tell potential overseas investors the story of the UK’s professional industries, including our major centres of finance in Edinburgh and Manchester, our advanced manufacturing in Sheffield, and our revolutionary fintech in Leeds. I’ve visited each of these places and seen business innovations that made my jaw drop.
Bristol hosts 35,000 professional and financial services jobs, including the highest number of bankers in the UK outside London. These are high quality, highly skilled jobs that punch well above their weight in terms of contribution – 13 per cent of Bristol’s workforce work in financial and professional services, but they contribute over a quarter of its entire economic output.
In Bristol I met senior business leaders, and was heartened by the strong connection between the local highly regarded universities and local businesses. I also met with the mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, and heard how political will to advance the city’s prosperity involves working closely with Bristol’s strong professional services industry. Bristol has also nurtured several high-tech companies, including the astonishing Ultrahaptics, a firm using sound waves to allow you to feel virtual objects in mid-air.
In Cardiff I met assembly member Julie James, the Welsh deputy minister for skills and technology, along with others who have helped facilitate Wales’s rapid rise in professional services, which has seen the country add over 40,000 new jobs in the sector since 2011. One of the key areas of discussion, other than how to manage Brexit, was how to ensure that the Welsh people have the skills required by the new businesses that are coming to Wales. The answer is close cooperation between business, academia and government.
I was heartened to hear that all of these major UK cities are keen to work with London in ways that accentuate the individual strengths of each urban area. It is vital that during the upcoming negotiations with the European Union, we remember that professional services are our national industry, supporting the aspirations of the millions of people throughout the UK.