I have always been optimistic about London’s ability to bounce back from the terrible economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The good news is my optimism was well founded – as we’re already seeing many positive signs. Our “Let’s Do London” campaign is working, enticing Londoners and visitors back to experience all that central London has to offer. The number of passengers on our transport network has accelerated beyond predictions. Our cultural institutions are entertaining thousands every day once again. And, in another great sign, CityAM has relaunched its paper edition this week.
As Mayor, I’m determined to do all I can from City Hall to keep up this momentum and to support London’s businesses through these difficult times. As part of this, I’ve announced £544m of investment in London’s economy to help boost growth, revitalise our high streets and deliver support programmes for young Londoners. However, there’s still a long way to go and there are a number of critical issues holding our city back, slowing our recovery and thwarting our potential.
The most urgent is the growing labour shortage. Many sectors that are playing a central role in our economic recovery, like hospitality, haulage, construction and culture, are now under huge strain, mainly due the lack of EU workers and the Government’s immigration rules. We know there are countless struggling businesses across London that are working hard to get back on their feet, but are now simply unable to hire the staff they need.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the total number of job vacancies in the UK reached a record high in the last quarter. As Mayor, I’m using my powers to help Londoners get the skills they need for the jobs in the industries that are experiencing major shortages. But it’s simply impossible for us and businesses across the city to train up the numbers of workers needed in such a short space of time.
That’s why I’m calling on the Government to change its immigration system so that it meets our economic needs. This must include introducing a targeted Covid Recovery visa to help attract international workers into key roles to give businesses breathing space to reopen and maintain critical services. Another sector that will be vital to helping us rebuild our economy, but is seemingly being overlooked by the Government, is financial services.
The financial services industry is fundamental to the economic strength of London and the whole country – adding over £130bn of value to our economy every year and employing over a million people. It’s a national asset that we should not only be proud of, but work to maintain, support and nurture over the years and decades ahead. But access to the best talent from around the world, which our financial services have always relied upon to thrive, is becoming increasingly difficult. In addition, the final Brexit deal was effectively a no-deal Brexit for finance, with the needs of the sector at the heart of our global competitiveness side-lined.
This was a major mistake and I will continue to put pressure on the Government to work constructively with the EU towards new agreements on regulatory equivalence. It might not be popular at the moment, but what we need is more leaders, particularly politicians, coming out to champion both the benefits of access to talent from around the world and the growth of our world-class financial services sector – not only for the good of London, but the whole country.
Since my re-election as Mayor, I’ve been doing all I can to work constructively with the Government to aid the national recovery. At the same time I’ll always stand up for London and London’s businesses when needed. And this includes fighting for the flexible migration system that will be crucial to the future success of London, and holding the Government to account to ensure it provides the support and protection the financial services industry needs following Brexit.