It is a regrettable feature of our current political and social discourse that London’s dominance is viewed as a problem to be solved, rather than an asset to be nurtured.
Addressing regional imbalances and promoting growth in other parts of the country cannot be achieved by clipping the capital’s wings. Politicians and academics talk about moving parliament to Birmingham or shifting Channel 4 to Manchester as if they were positioning pieces on a board game.
They also obsess over the notion of “rebalancing the economy” – which for many is simply code for weaning ourselves off a reliance on financial services. While there are things that government can do over the long term to promote new forms of economic activity, the reality is that London is the engine room of the British economy and financial services is the main source of fuel.
Financial and professional services are also the UK’s largest generator of tax revenues and account for seven per cent of UK employment, generating gross value added per employee of nearly £80,000 – more than one and a half times the average employee contribution in other sectors.
More than 2m people work in this field and while the roots may be in London the branches sustain employment right across the country.
London stands tall among a handful of truly global cities, and its significance deserves to be recognised and prioritised at the very heart of the Brexit negotiations and at the centre of any post-Brexit vision for Britain.
But where does it feature in Theresa May’s strategy? Why does the City need to send its own delegation to Brussels to make a case that should surely constitute the strongest card in the government’s hand? If the City declines, London declines.
The good news is that there is nothing inevitable about such an outcome. The restructuring and relocations made necessary by Brexit can, in the long run, be mitigated by government action to strengthen and promote London’s role as an international leader in financial and professional services.
But this cannot be done if the government views the City as an entity that can fight its own political battles and it certainly can’t be achieved if politicians consider the sector’s dominance as anything other than a crown of which we should all be proud.