What businesses want in London’s new mayor: A wishlist from the CBI

IN A YEAR of exciting events, the London mayoral elections are first in the capital’s diary, followed in the summer by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Games. The spotlight will be on London, so there’s no better time to redouble our efforts to promote the city as a world-leading business centre.

Whoever wins the election, maintaining and attracting business investment in London must be a major priority for the next mayor. With the city expected to grow by more than 1m people by 2042, the focus has to be on jobs and growth, which will need to be driven primarily by the private sector.

There is some good news already. It is estimated the capital will welcome 12.7m visitors this year, more than in any period since the turn of the century. That’s fantastic for London firms, particularly service businesses, and will be a boost to jobs too.

The Olympics will provide the perfect global showcase for London as an investment location. The mayor should use it to help small and medium-sized firms identify and take advantage of new export opportunities, through trade missions, fairs, and the British Business Club.

Promoting London internationally is a key priority, but if this city is to continue as a world-leading business centre then there are many other issues that the next mayor must tackle.

At the top of the business agenda is: overhauling our transport infrastructure, ensuring the planning system is pro-growth, boosting employment, providing clarity on immigration, tackling aviation issues, improving education and skills, and resisting unnecessary or damaging regulation.

The capital’s transport network is its lifeblood and is absolutely vital to the success of London’s economy. Along with delivering innovations like Crossrail, businesses want the mayor to make the most of existing network capacity, increasing connectivity and reliability for passengers. Ensuring that there is no time slippage or cost overrun on the tube modernisation programme will be crucial. The poor state of the city’s roads can also be a real hindrance to doing business here, so the next mayor must overhaul the network and reduce congestion.

On aviation, the mayor must pressure government to stop UK air passenger duty – already Europe’s highest – from undermining London’s position as a good place to trade and invest, as well as ensuring the capital has sufficient aviation capacity to remain an international transport hub.

There’s a real opportunity to attract private sector capital, including from pension funds and through tax increment financing, into transport and infrastructure projects in the city, so the mayor must work with businesses and the government to set the right framework to secure this investment.

It’s of real concern that the unemployment rate in London is over 10 per cent and particularly high among young people. This is not just a product of the recession. There were already structural problems in the employment market that will not simply go away with a return to growth, so we urgently need to improve London’s skills base.

Apprenticeships address skills gaps and help people into employment. We need bold targets to increase the numbers on schemes, broaden their appeal, and cut red tape to make them easier for businesses to provide.

We also want the brightest people from all over the world to come to London. The mayor must work with government for greater clarity on immigration, particularly around the availability of work permits for skilled migrants and intra-company transfers.

We want the successful candidate to create a vibrant new centre of development in the Royal Docks enterprise zone, including simplified planning rules and innovative use of business rates to help drive regeneration.

Finally, London must not become subservient to Brussels on regulation. The next mayor must encourage central government to stand up against a raft of unwanted regulation, like the Financial Transaction Tax. This will be crucial to maintaining London’s international competitiveness.

We’re on our marks for an amazing summer of events in the capital. We must make sure we capitalise on these once in a lifetime opportunities to maintain London’s position as the gold-standard global business centre, to help us deliver growth and jobs for the years to come.

Sara Parker is London director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).