Good jobs: On that key measure, London is the world’s top city

Allister Heath

LONDON is a global city, and together with a handful of other ultra-successful urban centres worldwide, the closest we have today to the ancient Phoenician and Greek city-states. Successful, open-minded, commercial cities have always attracted the best and brightest, something that was just as true in the Mediterranean in 600BC as it was in early twentieth century Vienna.

The same holds of London today. It became apparent in the late 1980s that London was becoming home to a very large concentration of well-paid, high value added jobs; but fresh research demonstrates that the number of professional jobs in today’s London is even greater than most of us had imagined. Remarkably, more people are employed in high-skill, knowledge-based sectors in London than in any other city in the world, according to a fascinating study by Deloitte.

Deloitte’s research identifies 22 high value added business sectors: in 12 of these London is the global leader in terms of employee numbers; New York, its nearest rival, leads in just seven. London is also the biggest hub for employment in these high-skill, knowledge-based sectors: they employ 1.48m people in London (29 per cent of the total working population), compared to 1.16m in New York (also 29 per cent), 784,000 in Los Angeles (20 per cent), 630,000 in Hong Kong (16 per cent) and 425,000 in Boston (24 per cent). For every job created in these high value added sectors, two more are created in dependent support services – such as transport or retail; and Deloitte expects another 100,000 net new high-skilled jobs to be added in London by 2020.

Out of seven over-arching areas, London is the overall leader in five (in terms of employment): financial services; technology, media and telecommunications; business and professional services; education; and culture. It comes second in consumer business (after New York) and is sadly nowhere to be seen in life sciences.

London is the leader in insurance; retail and investment banking; and fund management; it is ranked second (after New York) in hedge funds and third in securities (after New York and Boston). London is ranked top in digital media; publishing (except internet); and telecommunications; second in radio and TV broadcasting; cable and subscription programming; and advertising agencies (all three after NY) and third in motion picture and sound recording (after LA and NY). In business and professional services, London is top in legal services; accounting, tax and payroll; architectural and engineering services; and management, scientific and technical consulting; we are second in private security and third in facilities management. In consumer business, London is top in transport and storage, second in accommodation and food service; and retail; and fourth in wholesale trade. Last but not least, education is another strength, though we are only third in higher education.

None of this means that London can rest on its laurels. The trains and roads remain horribly over-crowded. The housing stock is limited, of insufficient quality and sky-high prices are hobbling London’s competitiveness. Tax levels are higher than in some other global cities, not least Singapore and Hong Kong, and regulations more cumbersome. It remains too hard to turn start-ups into multi-billion pound giants. The visa system has improved but still puts too much pressure on smaller firms. While education as a business targeting people based overseas is a great asset for London, paradoxically the overall UK education system continues to fail to provide the right skills for resident children.

The opportunities in London are remarkable for those fortunate enough to have skills, a great education and ambition – but with the right policies, they could be even better, and the growth created would also provide more and better jobs for the less skilled. We shall soon find out whether our politicians are up to the challenge.
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