Immigration, skills, transport, housing – Mayor addresses key business issues

Earlier this summer over 150 LCCI members attended an ‘in conversation’ event with Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. In a packed City Hall chamber – the same space where the monthly Question Time is held with the London Assembly– the Mayor outlined his priorities for the capital.

Sadiq Khan at City Halll

In a two-hour session chaired by the Chamber’s interim Chief Executive Peter Bishop, the Mayor took questions on the key issues for London business, namely those set out in the LCCI’s Towards a Greater London business agenda for 2020, as part of a broad-ranging discussion. The Mayor praised the LCCI in representing the voice of London business, locally and nationally, and applauded the role of businesses across the capital for the jobs and growth they create. Discussion was around the four key areas of immigration, skills, transport and housing.

Inmigration

The Mayor referred to City Hall research highlighting that the capital would struggle to fill around half of all jobs in key sectors such as construction, social care and hospitality as a result of the government’s plans for post-Brexit immigration. He reiterated the joint call for the government to lower the proposed £30,000 salary threshold, adding that this should be set at £21,000 in line with the London Living Wage.

The Mayor also backed LCCI’s call for the creation of a Shortage Occupation List for the capital, which would be designed to fast track the people needed for specific occupations where demand for overseas workers is greatest. Since the EU referendum, LCCI has campaigned for the capital to have a greater say over its ability to access the skills it needs from outside the UK post-Brexit. A devolved and regularly updated list would give employers across London a mechanism to report acute skills shortages more swiftly. “If you devolve to London the shortage occupation list, we can decide as a city what should be on it,” the Mayor told members. He added that the system could be targeted to particular industries, citing the tech sector’s reliance on freelancers as an example of where this might apply.

Recognising the economic, social and cultural footprint of immigration in London, the Mayor emphasised that the immigration debate is “arguably the most important debate we’ll be having over the course of the next three months” and it will continue to be crucial to London post-Brexit.

Skills

London’s businesses need access to a diverse, skilled workforce. Addressing London’s skills gap, particularly as business navigates a new immigration system, is therefore crucial to maintaining the capital’s global competitiveness. During the discussion, the Mayor outlined progress made since the publication of the Skills for Londoners Strategy, which set out priorities for boosting post-16 skills and adult education. Asked how the Mayor’s approach would differ from Whitehall’s if City Hall were to secure full control of the Apprenticeship Levy, he recognised concerns about devolution of the levy in practice but stressed that funding raised in London should be spent here and that the system needs greater flexibility to boost training.

Transport

It is vital that the capital’s transport system is able to keep pace with demand. When asked what lessons can be learned from delays to Crossrail for future transport projects, the Mayor stressed that findings from external reviews are being taken on board and lauded the role of business in paying for a third of the cost of delivering Crossrail. On plans for additional river crossings to ease congestion and overcrowding in East London, the Mayor emphasised the need for pedestrian and cycle crossings, as well as greater investment in infrastructure across the capital more generally. While LCCI welcomed the announcement that Silvertown Tunnel had been given the green light earlier this year, further road crossings, especially at Gallions Reach and Belvedere, will be vital to improving connectivity within the capital. The LCCI will continue to campaign for this critical infrastructure.

Housing

Housing continues to impact on London’s attractiveness and livability. With availability and affordability driving people to live outside of the capital, LCCI’s Brown for Blue campaign has called for ‘brownspace’ land within the Green Belt to be used for developing homes for rent for emergency services workers. Asked how the new London Plan will make provision for essential worker housing, and what steps need to be taken to deliver his target of 66,000 new homes each year, the Mayor agreed there is an urgent need to increase housing supply across a range of tenures, calling for further investment from government. He stressed the need to increase the build-out rate of homes once planning permission has been granted, as well as to empower more builders and free up more land for development.

Nadine Tewfik-Saad, Head of Public Affairs and Simon Dishman, Policy Manager

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