Niall Ferguson warns on London’s possible fall

The historian who wrote a book entitled The Ascent of Money yesterday warned that London faces a fairly rapid descent from its platform as the world’s leading financial centre unless it quickly improves its infrastructure.

Niall Ferguson, the well-known history professor at Harvard University, said that infrastructure improvements, such as public transport, and in particular airport expansion, needed to happen within the next 10 years if London was to compete with China’s flourishing economy.

He was speaking at an event with a panel including Jeremy Quin, managing director at Deutsche Bank, Mark Field, the MP for Cities of London & Westminster, and Witold Balaban, the global head of financial institutions at Latham & Watkins and others at the Corinthia Hotel.

“China, especially Hong Kong, is as good as London – if not better,” Ferguson said. “I dread arriving at Heathrow but I do look forward to arriving in Beijing.”

Although China has seen a slowdown in its economy recently, Ferguson expects this only to last a short time. He said that Manhattan, once the world’s financial centre, was now more or less a tourist attraction.

By staging the Olympics and the Queen’s 100th anniversary, London has become the city to visit in 2012.

During the Games about 300,000 people will be expected to travel to the Olympic Park every day during peak times.

London businesses and financial services will be challenged by the Games, which will show how well or badly London’s infrastructure is prepared for further challenges, Ferguson believes.

Ferguson quipped that the decision over which city will become the world’s new financial centre will depend on just one thing – the fashion taste of the world’s chief executives’ women.

The event was organised by Latham & Watkins, one of the leading global law companies.

■ A further piece of good news for team Tchenguiz, after the family’s legal eagles at Stephenson Harwood won litigation team of the year at this week’s The Lawyer Awards. Just days after the Serious Fraud Office dropped its investigation into Vincent Tchenguiz, the property mogul’s lawyers picked up the industry gong for its part in ending the probe, and ongoing work linked to the Icelandic bank Kaupthing.

Litigation partner Sean Jeffrey, who led the lawyers fighting the SFO, picked up the award on the night on behalf of the team, which also includes senior associate Richard Garcia, lead lawyer on the Kaupthing claims.

Other big winners on the night included Robert Jay QC, the fastidious face of the Leveson Inquiry, who took home the barrister of the year prize.