It is a testament to the resilience of London businesses that, since last year’s referendum, we have not experienced any sense of panic about Brexit. Rather, firms across the capital have largely taken a pragmatic and level-headed approach to Britain’s exit from the EU.
Following the coming General Election, they will look to new ministers to be similarly pragmatic in ensuring that London and the wider UK prospers in the years ahead. That means the new government moving to limit uncertainty and maximise opportunity during the Brexit process, as well as considering how to make certain that London remains a great place to do business.
Optimism from political figures is all very well, but London firms need a bit more from government to boost confidence, spur investment and grow the economy.
London’s position as a leading global city cannot be taken for granted. By 2020, the capital’s population is forecast to reach 9m. We will achieve megacity status by 2030, with over 10m citizens, placing London’s infrastructure under additional pressure.
Chronic housing undersupply already impacts on employees and employers, our ageing transport network faces overcrowding and congestion, and London’s ongoing skills gap leaves employers struggling to fill vacancies.
Today the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry has published Capital Matters, our business manifesto for the General Election. It outlines the areas the new government needs to get to work on to ensure Britain remains competitive and thrives in a post-Brexit world.
A Brexit that works for London would ensure continued access to talent. Granting indefinite leave to remain for existing EU nationals within the capital would reassure them and their employers. To help meet employers’ future labour needs, establishing a separate Shortage Occupation List for London (like Scotland has) along with a new Capital Work Permits system would be prudent.
London will need the right infrastructure as it becomes a megacity, not least in order to house its workers. Auditing and mapping disused or poor quality land in the metropolitan greenbelt could identify “brownspace” plots to bring forward new housing. And in a post-Brexit environment, with international trade a priority, we are advocating a boost to short-term airport capacity through airfield, terminal and rail-link enhancements, while longer-term, practical future-proofing of the UK economy should see a new runway at Gatwick, after Heathrow.
Flexible immigration has partly addressed London skills shortages, but a major challenge will be equipping tomorrow’s workforce with the skills necessary to compete. Guaranteeing high-quality work placements for students pursuing a technical route and prioritising new “T-Levels” in the construction and digital sectors could help meet the demands of UK industry and support young people into long-term, fulfilling careers.
And policy-makers could be bold, creating a business environment conducive to growth by undertaking a fundamental review of business rates to assess the relevance of the tax in today’s increasingly online marketplace. Finally, ministers should look to encourage greater SME take-up of exporting opportunities to potential new international markets.
The new government elected on 8 June will look to steer post-Brexit Britain towards economic prosperity – and maintaining London’s competitiveness will be central to that.
Colin Stanbridge Chief Executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.