LONDON & Partners may not be a household name but it has a big job: as the mayor of London’s international promotional arm, it is tasked with helping Sadiq Khan keep the capital “open for business” in the run-up to Brexit and beyond.
Formed in 2011 ahead of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games from several bodies including Visit London and Study London, it brought trade, investment, education and tourism together under one roof. The aim was to boost London’s growth and build its reputation as a thriving and attractive world city.
Since then, it has supported the mayor’s international business programmes, launched major sporting, cultural and business events, and attracted millions of visitors through digital channels and campaigns.
Now, as the UK enters Brexit negotiations, London & Partners has a new boss: Laura Citron, 34, who joins from advertising giant WPP where she was managing director of the government and public sector practice. She replaces Gordon Innes as chief executive.
Citron sees her new job as essentially “commercial – to grow the bottom line for London – and storytelling”.
“I hope to grow London’s reputation as the best place in the world to live and study by telling stories based on being brave, open, confident and new – all the things London is good at,” she explains.
“Our role is to tell the story of the fundamentals on which London’s success is built, and to demonstrate the confidence we have in the future.” Among the capital’s fundamental strengths are “timezones, language and rule of law”, she says.
Citron, who studied economics, has a strong legacy to build on. London & Partners, based next to City Hall, has brought £1.5bn into the UK and created or secured 44,000 jobs. It has retained London’s position as a top destination for foreign direct investment, and as a leading destination for international students.
Citron believes one reason for this success is that its key areas of responsibility work together. “The talent pipeline comes from people studying here. They see the quality of life and stay or visit. People who come on business may tag on a few days shopping at the end.” She calls this “making the most of the whole offer”.
Tourism is worth £36bn to the London economy each year. With the recent depreciation of the pound, tourists and students continue to flock to London, with 2016 set to be another record year after last year’s high of 18.6m international visitors.
Citron, a Londoner, believes visitors are coming to the city because it is the most vibrant and exciting in the world. However, mindful of fierce competition from other cities, she is keen to avoid any complacency, particularly given the uncertainty created by Brexit which she calls a “big challenge”.
Inventiveness is key to the city staying ahead of the pack, she believes. London & Partners has helped promote new events, including the light festival Lumiere and cycle race Ride London. In June, the drone racing league is coming to town. Most tourists visit Zone 1 but London & Partners hopes to increase numbers at attractions in other zones such as Kew Gardens.
A new leading sector in the capital is fintech. Citron puts this down to investment capital, mentoring and workspaces. She says: “Fintech has received a lot of support from the GLA and London & Partners. We have shined a light on it.”
Due to London’s hub status in the sector, fintech companies have received more than £2bn of venture capital investment in the past five years. What’s more, Google, Apple and Facebook have all made commitments to London with other tech giants such as Snapchat and Expedia tipped to follow.
The benefits are being felt beyond Shoreditch, for example with the Here East tech campus near Stratford. As Citron puts it: “London is a tech city.”
She wants to repeat this success with life sciences, with London at the heart of a hub for the sector in the south east.
A cornerstone of this will be MedCity which was set up in 2014 as a collaboration between the mayor of London and various academic health science networks including UCL Partners, King’s Health Partners and Oxford Academic Health Science Centre. It has assisted organisations to set up in London including the Japanese Agency for Medical Research & Development.
Citron is also swinging behind the mayor’s export promotion drive for fast-growing start-ups, predominantly tech companies like online florist Bloom & Wild.
What about London’s traditional economic powerhouses such as financial services? “We are not responsible for the Brexit settlement, but can and will demonstrate confidence about the future and London’s fundamentals of talent, infrastructure and the rule of law,” she says.
She adds: “I intend to take London’s story out into the world, at what is a key time. It is a world-leading city but we can’t be complacent. There has never been a more crucial time to make sure London continues to be the greatest city in which to invest, study and visit.”