City Matters: Celebrate the soft power underpinning London’s economic fundamentals

Roger Gifford
OVER the past twelve months, we have seen the UK economy, London and the City move towards a healthier position.

The UK economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the third quarter, the IMF has significantly raised its growth forecast for 2013 as a whole, London businesses feel more optimistic than at any time since 2010, and the value of the 53 UK-issued initial public offerings so far this year is $8.1bn (£5bn) – on track to be the highest level since 2008. Jobs in the City are now back at their 2007 levels.

There has also been a 11.6 per cent rise in UK restaurant sales since 2009 – a sure sign that confidence has increased. The soon-to-be-completed Walkie Talkie and Cheesegrater skyscrapers have already pre-let more than half their space. The insurance, legal and technology sectors, in particular, are demonstrating strong growth in the Square Mile. For years, we have been told that recovery is just around the corner, but at last we can agree: the green shoots of recovery are finally sprouting.

It is important to recognise that this economic data is underpinned by what is called “soft power” as well as strong fundamentals. International investors flock to the Square Mile because of its commitment to the rule of law and an independent judiciary. British commercial law is held up as the gold standard in many countries, and investors know that they will be treated fairly and responsibly here. These practical concerns play a huge role in the decision-making process that leads companies to locate in the UK.

And this is by no means the whole story. People want to live somewhere with spirit, and companies want to invest in a vibrant destination. London has this in spades, whether it is the South Bank, the West End or Shoreditch. The City’s cultural quarter is a key part of this cluster, with the Barbican, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the Museum of London, the London Symphony Orchestra, and others offering world class facilities and talent on our doorsteps, and exhibitions such as the Cheapside Hoard bringing history to life.

London also plays host to many of the world’s best schools and universities, and counts among its accolades the title of the Greenest City in Europe. The City of London Corporation runs more than 11,000 acres of green space, including our Britain in Bloom Gold Award-winning City Gardens, Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest. These benefit Londoners far beyond the Square Mile by helping to deliver a better quality of life.

These unique cultural assets are recognised right across the globe as the jewels in London’s crown, and a major factor for our continued future success as a hub for international business. We have the secure legal background, the joyful exuberance of a bustling capital, and increasingly the positive economic growth needed to ensure a winning combination for decades to come.

It has been a privilege to serve this great City of ours for the past year, and I look forward to passing the baton over to Fiona Woolf next month when she takes over as our new lord mayor.

Roger Gifford is the lord mayor of London.