The party positions on business priorities

The UK’s three biggest parties have now published their manifestos, outlining their positions on London First’s priorities to keep our capital globally competitive.

All three parties have recognised the importance of boosting skills to driving growth across the UK.

  • The Conservatives have committed to putting skills at the heart of their industrial strategy.
  • The Liberal Democrats aim to double the number of businesses that hire apprentices and plug gaps in basic competencies needed, such as numeracy, literacy and digital skills, by 2030.
  • Labour has pledged to devolve responsibility for skills and work with devolved administrations to improve the operation of the apprenticeship levy.

As the new government sets the steer for this country’s future, it must proactively engage with business to ensure that skills gaps are plugged and employers can continue to access the talent needed for a strong economy. Business is committed to playing a full role in developing the skills of its workforce, and our Employment and Skills Commission will provide a strong business voice to establish a skills strategy for our capital.

Access to global talent is equally important, and as the next government takes back control of immigration, it must ensure that sectors retain this access to continue to compete on a global scale.

  • The Conservatives would seek recommendations from the independent Migration Advisory Committee on strategically aligning the UK’s visa system with its industrial strategy without adding to net migration.
  • Similarly, Labour would work with businesses and other partners to set out a new system enabling migrants to fill skills shortages in line with the economy’s needs.
  • The Liberal Democrats would reinstate post-study work visas for STEM graduates, also granting devolved administrations the powers to sponsor additional post-study work visas.

The UK as a whole, and London in particular, are facing a housing crisis and urgently need more homes. Each party has shown commitment to building more homes; another step in the right direction. London First’s manifesto sets out how to deliver the homes our capital so badly needs. The new government should as a matter of priority take the brakes off London boroughs investing in home building, work with the mayor to release public land for development, help housing associations to build more homes, and invest in transport infrastructure to unlock land for housing development.

Each party has pledged to deliver vital infrastructure projects. London has already committed to funding half of the cost of Crossrail 2, which, as well as providing essential transport capacity, could unlock 200,000 new homes. The new government must commit to introducing a Crossrail 2 Bill as quickly as possible, allowing construction to begin in the early 2020s and be open in the early 2030s.

If our next government pushed the delivery of economic growth to devolved institutions, it could give cities and regions the powers and resources to make the right decisions and drive investment and growth. London First will continue to work with organisations around the UK to make the case for devolution and push for a commitment to Crossrail 2.

Business is poised to step up and work with the new government. Over the next three weeks, we will continue to amplify our three priorities set out in our manifesto and get ready to engage from 9 June.

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Housing at the heart of the manifestos

Guest blog from David Talbot, Director, FTI Consulting Public Affairs

The housing crisis is so daunting in scale, and possible solutions so politically fraught, that historically politicians of all parties have not dared truly tackle it. Policies have tended to tinker at the edges of the issue, and sometimes inadvertently entrench the gap, for instance, the government’s Lifetime ISA which hands £1,000 a year to would-be buyers – if, that is, they already have £4,000 of their own.

As is already well known, the real problem is supply. In 2016, the number of affordable homes built slumped to a 24-year low. There are renewed calls for 3 million new homes in a decade, a third of them commissioned by the public sector. Smarter homes would help too: not just for first-time but also ‘last-time’ buyers, with the kind of accessible, attractive smaller retirement units that could encourage older people otherwise reluctant to downsize, and which would also immediately free up millions of households back on to the property ladder.

There are more than a million people on housing waiting lists in England, while more than 6 million face tenure insecurity with no prospect of ever buying their own home. Parties have been alarmingly slow to address the needs of those not already firmly established on the ladder – though Ed Miliband certainly tried during his Labour leadership – but even the Conservatives are now paying lip service to at least some of them.

This bleak news is striking, but unsurprising. The reality may not match the rhetoric, but it is still encouraging that housing pledges are set to be the centrepieces of both the Labour and Conservative manifestos. Labour wants to build at least a million more homes over the next five years, with half of them council houses, as well as provide a charter of private tenants’ rights. Its pledge to link HS2 with other rail investments, such as Crossrail of the North, could also unlock thousands of new homes along its route. And Theresa May, in a foretaste of the pending Conservative manifesto, launched an audacious bid to woo Labour voters by putting plans for a new generation of council homes for the working classes at the heart of her programme for government.

This positivity is further strengthened by a batch of Select Committee reports released just before the election, which detailed useful markers for future housing policy. The underwhelming Housing White Paper will still be in play post general election, with the added benefit of additional time to beef it up before it returns to Parliament. And, with Gavin Barwell and John Healey currently in the Housing and Shadow Housing portfolios respectively, the sector has its two best advocates in years.

For years politicians have relied on merely slowing down the rate at which the housing crisis gets worse. The emerging cross-party consensus may at last alleviate this.

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Business chiefs from the North West and London unite to demand greater devolution

Press Release 15 May 2017

In a joint letter to the political parties, business chiefs have called for greater devolution to UK cities and regions as the next government focuses on Brexit negotiations.

The North West Business Leadership Team, representing national and international businesses with substantial commitments in the north west, London First, whose members include over 200 of the capital’s leading companies, and Centre for Cities, an independent think tank dedicated to improving UK city economies, have argued that greater control over the revenues generated by locally raised taxes – such as property and council taxes – would give local institutions greater incentive to drive investment and growth, and the means to fund it.

The letter from the organisations, which are committed to finding ways for London, the north west and cities and regions around the UK to work more closely together, states that:

  • At a time when central government is focused on Brexit, devolved institutions should be given powers and resources to deliver economic growth
  • Retaining local property tax revenue, for example, would give a strong incentive to support new development and the resources to manage the public costs
  • Certainty of income streams would provide a foundation for prudential borrowing to deliver critical local investment
  • Economic decision making would be improved
  • Innovation and productivity gains would follow

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of London First, said: “The new government will be rightly focused on Brexit through the next parliament, but we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball when it comes to the economy. Speeding up devolution in England will help local government prioritise investments that will drive growth across the country – the so-called “devolution dividend” – and get the UK into the best possible shape ahead of 2019.

“In London, less than 10% of our income is directly managed by those people elected locally and closest to what our capital needs. To keep the economy growing, central government will have to loosen its grip on the purse strings.”

Juergen Maier, chair of the North West Business Leadership Team and CEO of Siemens UK, said: “The election of the new City Region Mayors is an opportunity for us to work much more closely together to develop the strong regions we need if we are to effectively deliver on the promises of the Government’s forthcoming Industrial Strategy.  This matters not just to the North but to the future success of the entire UK economy.”

Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “In recent years we’ve seen important steps towards reversing decades of centralisation in the British political system, and the next Government should build on this progress by extending devolution across the country. That means working with the new metro mayors to make the most of the opportunities they face, and agreeing more devolution deals with other big cities like Leeds and Newcastle. It also means handing places more fiscal powers, to give them real incentives and measures to grow their local economies.”

Read the full letter here

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Equipping Londoners with the skills London’s businesses need

Mark Hilton, London First Policy Director, Skills


Skills for Londoners is the Mayor’s new scheme to equip Londoners with the skills London’s businesses need. Mark Hilton, member of the Skills for Londoners Stakeholder Advisory Group, speaks to City Hall on why Skills for Londoners is important to London First members.

Read Mark’s blog for the Mayor of London’s office here.


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One year on: Working with the Mayor to keep London the best place to do business

John Dickie, London First Director of Strategy and Policy


When Sadiq Khan was elected London’s third Mayor on 5 May last year, the world was a very different place. David Cameron was Prime Minister, George Osborne Chancellor and Britain was a member of the European Union.

Fast forward to today, and Cameron has retired, Osborne has left Parliament to edit the Evening Standard and Boris Johnson, Khan’s predecessor, is the Foreign Secretary. Oh, and Britain is leaving the EU and is in the midst of a snap general election. It’s been a busy year.

Over these past months, London First has been working with the Mayor to keep London as the best city in the world in which to do business.

With the new Mayor’s support, we led a pre-referendum push to get more young Londoners registered to vote, and convened the capital’s tech and creative businesses to come out in force to encourage young Londoners to cast their ballot.

Following the vote to leave, we’ve been working with the Mayor to ensure that London stays open to the world. We’ve been vocal supporters of the Mayor’s #LondonIsOpen campaign, which has been his swift and impressive move to tell the world, post-referendum, what London is really like, and which ties in with our focus on the talent and skills agenda. We have both called on MPs and Peers to protect the rights of EU nationals ahead of the Brexit negotiations.

Over the past year, we’ve also stepped up our campaign to get London building the homes it needs. The Mayor has endorsed our employer housing pledges, which now cover more than 100,000 employees, and which demonstrate businesses’ commitment. We look forward to the Mayor’s forthcoming statutory strategies on housing, planning and transport which will set out his plans to get more homes built in the capital. We will be bringing our members together with the GLA to discuss the new strategies when they start being published after the election: the first such session will be preview of the mayor’s economic development strategy on 13 June.

We’ve also worked with the Mayor to make the case to government for Crossrail 2 and we will be pressing the new government swiftly to begin work on getting the necessary legislation through the next Parliament. Our general election manifesto outlines more broadly what business needs from the new government to keep our capital working for Britain.

In the coming years the new government will rightly be focused on negotiating our exit from the European Union, our new trading arrangements with our European Partners and our new domestic regulatory frameworks. With Whitehall preoccupied we need central government to devolve the powers and resources to tackle our housing, transport and other challenges to our Mayor and his newly-elected city-region mayoral peers, along the lines recommended by the London Finance Commission.

The next year will be crucial, and we are looking forward to working with Sadiq and his team, and our members, in making sure London remains the best city in the world to do business.

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