LONDON’S mayoral candidates clashed last night as they delivered their pitch to business leaders, explaining how they would attract investment and boost infrastructure in the capital.
Transport dominated the agenda, with Conservative candidate Boris Johnson saying the city was in the middle of a “neo-Victorian surge in transport investment” while Labour’s Ken Livingstone attacked fare rises and called for the transport surplus to subsidise cheaper travel.
Livingstone also gave his backing to the campaign to keep the Prudential in the UK, telling City A.M. that the demands of Solvency II are “ridiculous”.
The insurer has been toying with the idea of moving its headquarters to Hong Kong to avoid the new EU reforms that would drastically increase capital requirements but Livingstone said that if elected he would lobby to make sure that the firm stayed in the City.
However he admitted that it would be a struggle because “Britain is so isolated in Europe that we don’t have the weight” to change major decisions.
All the candidates at the hustings, hosted by law firm Allen and Overy, agreed that arbitrary restraints on immigration were damaging the ability of London businesses to recruit the best staff.
Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick said the current system was a “bizarre” approach to border controls while Johnson said that he wants to attract foreigners because “London’s genius is largely founded on immigration”.
Paddick also suggested that there should be a dedicated office for small business in City Hall to help overcome red tape.
Livingstone received the most applause when he argued that wealthy Chinese tourists should be allowed to enter the UK from the rest of the EU without paying for an additional visa: “They get into Schengen and travel all around Europe. Why should they pay another £50 to come to Britain?”
At the end Johnson declared that London was still “the greatest city on earth in which to do business” and strongly hinted that he would implement driverless trains on the underground if he won a second term in office.