Which mayor will be best for business?

Amid all the talk of personality – and the Capital’s new mayor will have to exert lots to push for change – business has lurked at the forefront of each of the main candidates campaign promises.

Whatever the frustrations and complexities the city of throws up, wealth creation is what London does best.

Last December, for the second year running, an Arthur Andersen survey ranked London as Europe’s top business city, only a month after the city was also voted Europe’s best city for business for the tenth year in succession by international property consultants Healey and Baker.

Inward investment agency supremo Stephen O’Brien, chief executive of London First, put it simply: ‘The world’s business community knows that London is the place to be.’

Frank Dobson, Susan Kramer, Ken Livingstone and Steve Norris over the last two months at hustings and podiums have protested their business-friendly credentials enough to fill an armada of barage balloons when and if the business community decides to turn.

And sooner rather than later one will be judged on his or her impact on the city’s business life.

‘A successful economy is an essential foundation to achieving all other aims for London and it’s people’, warned Jane Calvert-Lee, London director of the Confederation of British Industry. ‘Whoever runs London must recognise the importance of maintaining the capital’s position as a successful business city.’

The mayor will marshal a budget in the region £3.6bn to spend on transport, police and emergency services as well as economic development that will need to target the 14 out of 20 most deprived boroughs in Britain that are located in London.

However, he or she will have no powers to reverse a decision the Labour Government to part-privatise the underground and the new 25-member Greater London Assembly can overturn the mayor’s budget if they can agree by two-thirds to a an alternative.

Ken Livingston, at a hustings for the City last month organised by big five firm KPMG, was realistic about the limits on a mayor’s financial clout. ‘The chances of the Mayor gaining tax raising powers are slightly less than zero’, he said.

The business community are as up in the air as the wider voting public about the extent of the gap between their wish list for London and what an elected Mayor can actually deliver.

And transport is the top priority for an incoming mayor on 4 May for London businesses just as it is for individual Londoners, a Confederation of British Industry survey last week [25 April] revealed.Businesses told the CBI that their main transport concerns were investment in the tube, better mainline trains, giving buses priority roadspace, enforcing parking restrictions on bus routes and providing better information on bus times, delays and routes.

‘Companies need to be able to get their staff to work quickly on clean and reliable tube, bus and train services’, said Alan Stevens, chairman of the CBI’s London region. ‘Without more investment and modernisation of the transport system companies will think twice about investing in London and fewer companies will be attracted to set up in the capital.’

A safe and clean environment ranked as number two, while making administration more efficient, streamlining land-use planning, and encouraging public and private sector partnerships ranked third.

The London Chamber of Commerce added: ‘Road congestion and public transport are a pressing issue, as is the disparity between areas of high unemployment in the north east of the city and labour shortages such as West London.’For others in the City, the race is a side issue. ‘My friends in the City are not bothered about this election’, wrote William Davis recently in the Evening Standard. ‘They have little interest in all the posturing, because they think it will make no real difference to its role as a global financial centre.’

The financial community in the City may have its eyes on global markets, but most Londoners have their eyes on the city around them.

‘The mayor will exert a significant influence beyond his formal powers’, argues the London Chamber of Commerce. ‘And will need to be able to push for change, effective polices and act as an ambassador for London.’The personality-centred coverage of the election derided by many over the last couple of months may well after all be as good a litmus test as any for a new political role.

A Dozen London Facts

  • 539 foreign banks are located in London – more than any other country.
  • 33% of the world’s largest companies who have a European headquarters chose to locate it in London
  • Financial and related services employ over 300,000 people
  • Financial, professional and business service companies in London employ over 1 million people, is more people than live in Frankfurt
  • There are 2,900 accountancy firms in London
  • There are over 23,000 solicitors practicing in London
  • London accounts for over 15% of the UK’s GDP
  • Manufacturing accounts for 10.4% of London’s GDP and over 275,000 jobs
  • The size of the London economy, at over US$162bn, is larger than that of Norway, Poland, Finland, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland
  • Corporation tax is amongst the lowest in theEuropean Union (EU), at 30%
  • The UK’s top rate of personal tax is the lowest of all the major European economies, at 40%
  • The UK has the third lowest statutory employment charges in the EU

The Candidate Quotes

Frank Dobson on Transport. ‘I will ensure that the day-to-day running and safety of the Tube remain in public hands. But it will be the private companies who are modernising the Tube who will pay for any cost overruns, not Londoners.’

Ken Livingston on the buses. ‘Many now regard buses as a third-rate form of travel. This was not always the case. When I started work in 1962 every morning I shared the buses with city gents, in their pinstripes reading the Financial Times. Immediate action is required to transform the bus service into an equal partner to the tube.’

Susan Kramer on preference for revenue bonds to raise money for the Tube, which she claims would be half the cost in the public sector rather than Labour’s private public partnership policy. ‘I can never see any reason, as a banker, for going for expensive financing when cheaper is available.’

Steven Norris on shaking-up the Barnett formula, which determines spending in England. ‘London pays around £12bn more in taxes than it receives in government resources, compared with a net subsidy to Scotland of around £5.4bn. As the nation’s capital city and the driving force behind the UK’s economy, I accept that London will alwayspay more into the Exchequer than we receive out of it. However, the existing distribution of resources is quite simply not a fair deal for Londoners.’

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