London First members meet with Leader of the Opposition, Ed MilibandJanuary 11, 2013
On Thursday 10 January, the Leader of the Opposition, the Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP joined London First members for a question and answer session, kindly hosted by Berwin Leighton Paisner.
Opening the session, London First Chief Executive Jo Valentine questioned Mr Miliband on some of the biggest political challenges facing business in the capital. On the subject of European Union, Mr Miliband said a referendum on the UK’s continuing membership would “propel us into a world of uncertainty”; a statement with which the 40 gathered members agreed, as a straw poll revealed that not a single attendee would call a referendum now, nor would any want to leave the European Union.
On the subject of immigration, Mr Miliband admitted that “the impact of low skilled migration” was underestimated by the previous Labour Government; however, he remained in favour of maintaining an open labour market as long as the Government took responsibility for ensuring the workforce in this country was appropriately skilled (with incentives for business to train local staff) and that the minimum wage legislation was properly enforced. He felt that foreign students are being unfairly targeted in the Government’s push to drive down immigration, as European immigration cannot be controlled.
“Financial services are the lifeblood of the economy” was Mr Miliband’s stance on banking; “they should be driving the economy, not driven out of the country”. However, he felt that a solid regulatory system was needed to support a “flight to safety, not a flight to risk” from investors.
From a point of principle, rather than a politically ideological position, Mr Miliband condemned the recent cut to the top rate of income tax and reemphasised his belief in a 50p tax for the country’s highest earners, stating that “a society that becomes unequal in difficult times is not a society that can be sustained”, though he took on board the view that this makes it difficult for global companies with offices in London as well as elsewhere in the world.
Questions from the floor touched on High Speed 2, which Mr Miliband supports as part of modernity and would be happy to see either a nationalised or privatised system as long as it worked for passengers; aviation, on which he challenged the Davies Commission to consider each potential solution to the air capacity challenge in an environmental context; and tourism, which he accepted was becoming increasingly difficult to attract alongside policies such as cuts in national marketing budgets, making the ministerial post redundant and complex visa application processes, as well as the current UKBA queuing system.
Mr Miliband also took on concerns from a London university about a Labour commitment to reducing University fees if it wins the next election fuelling a delay in applications and allowing foreign students to stay in the UK for a longer period of time post-study to reap the benefits.