Look outside London to drive City’s growth

Michael Bear
The government has made clear that its top priority for 2011 is to drive forward growth in the UK economy and to ensure this growth is spread across the country and across a variety of sectors.

It could be inferred that such a commitment – shifting the focus away from London and the financial services industry – is bad news for the City.

However, anyone with any doubts as to how important a role financial services will play if we are to achieve this ambition should take a closer look at the areas outside of London and what is driving their economies.

This is a point that was made clear when I visited Leeds last week.

Of the one million people the financial and professional services industry employs throughout the UK, less than a third are based in London and the South East.

Leeds is one of the foremost centres for financial services in the UK and was recently ranked among the top 25 cities for business in Europe, ahead of larger, higher profile financial centres such as Rome, Moscow and Athens.

With banking and insurance services increasing by 107 per cent between 1997 and 2007, it is clear that the industry will be a key driver of economic growth in this area in the years to come.

Only a sophisticated and globally connected financial services industry is capable of delivering the combination of financing British businesses will need if we are to succeed in creating growth based around greater economic diversity.

This is the message I took to Leeds when I visited last week to meet with various regional business leaders so I can better represent the industry both at home and abroad.

This week, for my first overseas visit of 2011, I am leading a business delegation to Turkey – a country that David Cameron last year stated is “vital for our economy, vital for our security and vital for our politics and diplomacy”.

As a vital link between East and West, Turkey is clearly an important business partner for the UK – hence our long-standing support for their accession to the EU.

The scale of future opportunities for both countries is enormous. Not only does Turkey boast a tradition of economic stability, but the 10 per cent growth it exhibited during the second quarter of 2010 made it the fastest growing economy in the G20.

Working in partnership with financial centres in the UK as well as with our most important overseas partners will help to generate greater economic growth for all, whether they are based in London, in Leeds or in Istanbul.

Michael Bear is Lord Mayor of the City of London