Today I reach the end of my five year term as chairman of the City of London’s Policy and Resources Committee – in effect the closest you can possibly get to a political leader of the City. A few “end of term” reflections are in order.
The City is an integral part of London, which over the past 30 or so years has become the world’s leading global city – a world centre for a diverse range of activities including finance, business, the professions, education, medicine, culture and sport. It has achieved this through a combination of circumstances including London traditionally being open to global talent, some sensible policy decisions, some natural advantages and some poor decisions by other centres.
But there is no room for complacency – getting to the top is easier than staying there. Brexit is a challenge in this respect. Brexit will be a “success” if the sole criterion for success is that Britain leaves the EU by 2020. But what really matters is whether Britain – and more specifically London – will make a success of the post-Brexit world. Time will tell. The key determinant of prosperity in the future will not be whether we move left or right, but whether we are an open or closed society. Britain can choose to be either.
One is encouraged by talk of Britain being a global leader in free trade, but slightly disturbed by those who do not understand that free trade cannot be achieved without some sharing of sovereignty – on standards, tariffs and public procurement rules, for example, and on an agreed mechanism for resolving disputes.
Almost every organisation I speak to stresses the need for London to remain open to international talent, but this is a view not universally shared throughout the country. The debate on immigration rivals the debate on Brexit for being largely devoid of hard evidence, relying instead on emotion and at times prejudice. Those who want London to continue to thrive – with benefits for the whole of the country – have to be prepared to make the case, or to accept the consequences. This is important for the finance industry – but far more important for technology, culture and education.
And what about the City rather than London as a whole? I have always believed that what is good for London is good for Britain, and vice versa. And the same applies to the City and London as a whole. The City is an integral part of London and, to succeed, needs a successful London.
It is for this reason that I have done what I can to strengthen the City’s contribution in areas such as education, employment initiatives, culture and housing, and have sought to play a full role in London government. In so doing I have developed the highest possible respect for the leaders of London local authorities and for their representative body, London Councils.
London and the City are in good political hands. But political leaders need the help of business and the third sector to make an effective case for London and Britain remaining open in the post Brexit world.