Keeping our capital working for the UK

Tackling London’s housing shortage demands greater pragmatism, honesty and creativity from all sides

Craig McWilliam, CEO, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland

The capital’s response to its housing crisis will only be successful with bold public sector leadership led by vision and an honest depiction of the trade-offs and difficult decisions inherent in urban development.

Take the embryonic Build to Rent sector, which has enormous potential to bring more affordable homes to the market more quickly than traditional housing for sale schemes.

There is substantial private capital looking to invest in the UK: £30bn in the next 5 years according to the BPF, and London’s government has the powers needed to attract that capital to fund many new rental homes. However, for this sector to reach its potential, we urgently need robust placemaking leadership in three areas:

Firstly, we need a clear and deliverable London-wide policy to give impetus to the sector. Investors and developers often don’t know where they stand in London, creating an environment that constrains investment.

We welcome the Mayor’s work to articulate BtR policy, including recognition in his draft London Plan that the economics of BtR are different to those of housing for sale. The plan also argues discounted market rental homes should be viewed as traditional affordable housing, which is positive and bold. This is a step in the right direction.

Secondly, we need to improve the quality of the housing debate. BtR will not deliver the same percentage of affordable or social rented homes as housing for sale. It is not a silver bullet for the housing crisis.

The Mayor already recognises this difference, but I would question if the public, our residents of the future, understand this. The descent of the housing debate into a standoff between developers and communities threatens to stall the delivery of more homes, aggravating today’s issues.

So thirdly, we need a new public narrative on what constitutes affordable housing.

Our planning system fails too many on low and middle incomes. BtR can meet some of those needs by bringing market and below market rental homes to the supply.

Nevertheless, as BtR developments will not be a significant source of social rented housing we need a broader conversation about the definition and accessibility of affordable housing.

Success is predicated on bold public sector leadership. The housing shortage demands greater pragmatism, honesty and urgency from all sides. The Mayor and civic leaders should engage Londoners and local authorities in the full choices available and enable an honest discussion of the difficult decisions that have to be made, not a narrow range of soundbites. The opportunity, and the cost, is too great to ignore.


Posted in Homepage, Blog

Business, students and politicians defend international students at ‘stand up and don’t be counted’ rally


Business, politicians, universities, colleges and students are standing up and demanding that international students are not counted in the government’s net migration target.

Influential figures including Vince Cable, MP for Twickenham and Leader of Liberal Democrats, Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of The Green Party, alongside business leaders such as Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of London First, and Russ Shaw, founder, Tech London Advocates, are joining students and academics at a rally in Torrington Square today.

New data released by the organisers of the event, business group London First, shows the majority of people (57%) believe that international students should not be included in the government’s net migration target, with less than one in three people (31%) thinking they should be included.

In fact, there is majority support for removing students from the target across all age groups and from around the country, including over half of Conservative Party voters (52%).

Today’s rally is accompanied with a letter published by London First, signed by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the NUS and chief executives of leading UK businesses.

International students contribute a huge amount to the UK economy, generating up to £20bn a year for the economy and supporting over 200,000 jobs[1]. In London alone, international students generate a net benefit of £2.3 billion each year and support 70,000 jobs[2]. This makes higher education one of the UK’s most successful exports.

Naomi Smith, executive director of campaigns at London First said: “After raising the issue in China, Theresa May should send the world a clear message that international students are valued, supported and encouraged to seek success here. But actions speak louder than words and herding them into a net migration target says the opposite.

“Support for taking students out of the target is overwhelming, from politicians, businesses and voters across the political spectrum – so this is a straightforward chance for Theresa May to go to the top of the class, sending a clear message that we are open to talent and supporting higher education, one of the UK’s most successful exports. It’s time to take students out of the net migration target.”

Tulip Siddiq MP said: “It is impossible to imagine our world-class universities without international students. They sustain and enhance the courses that they attend and play a focal role in campus life.

“From those leading ground-breaking research projects, to those simply participating in campus sports and societies, the contribution of international students is obvious and goes well beyond their support for the British economy.

“I am therefore delighted to support London First and their efforts to rally behind international students living and learning in the UK.”

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party said: “Including international students in the net migration target sends the wrong message. Students are people, not numbers, and they contribute just as much to Britain as they gain from studying here. Britain’s education system is something to be proud of but it has been built with the help of academics and students from other countries. We must recognise this by continuing to welcome them. That means dropping students from the net migration target as first step towards ending the Government’s hostile environment for migrants.”

Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, University of London, said: “International students are a sizeable and important part of the higher education eco-system. It is vital that we make them feel welcome and do not put up barriers, in order to maintain the vibrancy of the sector and the economic contribution they make to universities and the wider community.”

Mary Vine-Morris, London Director at the Association of Colleges, said: “The government’s own data shows that international students play by the rules, coming here to learn and then returning home after their course is completed. So including them in a net migration target is a policy left over from a different time. We should be welcoming international students and the huge contribution they make to our colleges and universities.”

As we leave the EU, it is vital Britain forged strong trading partnerships – encouraging international students to study here will help as 60% of international students and alumni of UK universities saying they are more likely to do business with the UK having studied here.  Britain has also educated more serving heads of state at university level than any other country in world – increasing our soft power around the world.[3]






 Letter from the Mayor of London, National Union of Students, Royal College of Midwives and London business

Time to admit that international students are not the target

The contribution that international students make to our institutions, economy, local communities and global standing is clear. It’s time to take them out of the government’s net migration target.

The government is right to clamp down on any bogus activity and the steps they’ve already taken mean we can be confident that over 97% of international students play by the rules, coming here to learn and returning home after their studies.

Now it is time to move the debate on and focus on growing one of our most successful exports. The government has been clear there is no cap on the number of international students who can come to study in the UK. But continuing to include them in the net migration target sends the opposite message.

Reporting better data would provide clarity and build trust in how the government is managing migration.

The next step should then be to build on the government’s welcome recent move to give international masters students more time to find a graduate job in the UK, and to reintroduce a post-study work visa. British educated overseas talent is an asset and this would make our country more competitive as we seek to make the best of life outside the EU.

It’s time for the Prime Minister to accept that international students are not the target, commit to smarter data and protect one of our major export sectors, sending a strong message that the UK is serious in its ambition to invest in international education.

Signed by:

Jasmine Whitbread, CEO of London First

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Martin Brok, EMEA President at Starbucks

Shakira Martin, President, and Yinbo Yu, International Students’ Officer, at the National Union of Students

Mark Reynolds, CEO of Mace

Jon Skewes, Director of Policy, Employment Relations and Communications at the Royal College of Midwives

John Kampfner, CEO of Creative Industries Federation

Ken Shuttleworth, Founding Partner, Make

Jane Glanville, CEO of London Higher

George Iacobescu, CEO of Canary Wharf Group

Rob Perrins, Chief Executive of the Berkeley Group

Mark Barnett, Divisional President of UK, Ireland, Nordics and Baltic at Mastercard

John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow

Posted in News, Homepage, News & resources

Mayor backs key London First priorities at business group meeting

This week, we met with Sadiq Khan along with other London business groups.

The Mayor fully shares business’ concerns about the uncertainty that Brexit poses to the capital’s competitiveness, and encouraged business to continue to make the case for clarity from central government.

Sadiq was encouraged by the positive working relationship with England’s metro-mayors, an initiative we are driving forwards through our Growing Together Agenda with the Northern Powerhouse, NW Business Leadership Team, Business North and the Midlands Engine. Business is keen to work with regional mayors to meet a common agenda and help boost growth across the UK.

Crossrail 2 was a key discussions point, with the Mayor joining business in supporting the drive for Crossrail 2. Sadiq was keen to assure business of his positive relationship with government on this major infrastructure project, but stressed that business has a key role to play. While business is willing to play its part in meeting the challenges of Crossrail 2’s funding and financing, it would expect this to be as part of a sustainable and equitable funding package.

 It is reassuring to see the Mayor put his support behind a key priority for London First members, and we look forward to continuing to galvanise this support in getting the green light for Crossrail 2.


Posted in Homepage, News & resources

Estate Regeneration and ‘First Dibs’ for Londoners – has Mayor made the right call?

Jonathan Seager – Executive Director, Policy

Estate regeneration across London is not without controversy and recent events in both Haringey and Southwark have highlighted some of the challenges when working on complex schemes with multiple stakeholders, including residents and leaseholders.

It is into this mix that the Mayor has published not only his good practice guide on regeneration (Better homes for local people) but also his consultation paper on the proposed new funding condition to require resident ballots in estate regeneration.

The final version of the guide sets out the Mayor’s expectations for how local authorities and housing associations should engage with residents as part of estate regeneration schemes, as well as outlining his three Better Homes for Local People principles:

  • an increase in affordable housing
  • full rights to return or remain for social tenants
  • a fair deal for leaseholders and freeholders

In addition, the guide sets out how the Mayor intends to ensure these principals are implemented using his planning and funding powers. This includes outlining his support for the principle of requiring resident ballots in estate regeneration schemes which involve demolishing existing homes. The consultation on the use of ballots will be open until 5pm on Tuesday 3 April 2018.

At London First, we have previously considered the benefits estate regeneration can provide for existing and new communities. Our report last year set out a series of recommendations for policy makers on how they can improve estate regeneration across the capital. We will be revisiting this work after the local elections in May. If you would like to find out more please contact

‘First Dibs’ for Londoners

The Mayor has announced a new initiative  agreed with the Home Builders Federation and the g15 to restrict sales of all their new-build homes in the capital up to £350,000 to UK buyers only for three months before any overseas marketing can take place. The offer also involves Londoners, who live or work in the capital, being offered ‘first dibs’ exclusively for up to a month within this time period. The practicalities of this initiative will be developed over the coming months.

London First has been engaging with the GLA on this issue for some time, and while we think it is right for the Mayor to support Londoners priced out of the housing market, the capital’s housing crisis is built on a fundamental lack of supply, and only with a relentless commitment to freeing up more land and building more homes will we really find ways to tackle it.

For more information please contact Jonathan Seager

Posted in Homepage, Blog

Help us beat the drum for a business-friendly Brexit

Mark Hilton, Skills and Immigration Director, London First

Having jumped the Blue Monday hurdle – supposedly the most depressing day of the year – perhaps we can look ahead with optimism that this year will be the year when the government really grips Brexit and pulls together a presentable plan that works for the UK.

Yet, judging by what we’ve already seen in 2018, perhaps we’re in for another nail-biting, confusing, roller coaster ride. And the next phase of negotiations hasn’t even begun.

Views and evidence on either side of the debate are clattering up against each other, providing absolute certainty that Brexit will deliver us the riches the country deserves/ will send us to hell in a hand cart.

Philip Hammond has accused the EU of being ‘backward looking’.   Donald Tusk has signalled the UK can change its mind.  Boris Johnson claims the UK will actually get back more than £350m each week when we leave.  Parliament will have a vote on the final deal, but no one really knows what a meaningful vote looks like.  What type of transition should we have – will it be stand-still, or will it begin implementing new rules?  Should we pause/suspend/ extend Article 50? What do the ‘plus, plus, pluses’ mean in a Canada+++ trade deal?  Will freedom of movement really end in March 2019?

On the economy, the UK saw record levels of foreign direct investment in 2016 according to the ONS.  Likewise, the UK’s tech sector saw record investment in 2017 and manufacturing is at its highest level since 2008.  Yet, there have been reports that the recent jobs boom is grinding to a halt, with the number of people in work in the UK falling by 56,000 in the three months to October 2017.  Of course, we haven’t left the EU yet.  The Mayor’s recent Brexit impact studies paint a worst-case scenario of a hard Brexit damaging the UK economy to the tune of £54bn by 2030.  Global banks including Goldman Sachs are in a hiring drive in Frankfurt as they race to establish new headquarters post-Brexit.

In the midst of all of this, London First is keeping a calm head and resolute focus on securing a business friendly and flexible Brexit that delivers for all of the UK. Brexit is one of London First’s top three priority work streams, alongside housing and Crossrail 2.  It is the single most important factor influencing London First’s mission for London over the next two years.

We are working behind the scenes and publicly, both unilaterally and with our allies, pressing government to retain as many of the business benefits of EU membership as possible, with access to talent being number one priority for our members.

We want to land a sensible immigration policy and instigate a business-led, joined-up skills mission, to ensure business can access the range of talent it needs. We will build on the work of last year – Facing Facts, the first of its kind detailed analysis of migration in London; our proposal for a post-Brexit immigration system which senior players in government told us was sensible and pragmatic; our UK business survey on the pressing need for a transition period; and our sustained and successful lobbying on the plight of our EU colleagues and friends in London.

Our Brexit activity in 2018 has started with a focus on two issues.  First, international students.  The contribution they make is massive, going well beyond the £2.3bn net injection to our economy each year and providing a rich seam of skills for business, not to mention doing wonders for the UK’s soft power.  Yet, the PM’s insistence that they are included in the barmy net migration target sends the message we don’t want them.  London First has long been a thorn in the side of government on this issue and we are working to capitalise on some promising noises from parts of government.

Second, skills.  Our Skills Commission seeks to make London’s skills system work for business.  Having built a solid evidence base in 2017, we have spent January in a series of member workshops diving into issues like the apprenticeship levy and job automation to come up with actions for Whitehall, City Hall, skills providers and business. We are also conducting a UK wide business survey, and will consult on our proposals in March, launching our London action plan in June.

London First’s Brexit programme for the year ahead will remain nimble, responding to the twists and turns that we can expect, and will seek to bring light to the issues that matter.  While our focus is presently on talent, as the country prepares for the next phase of negotiations we are planning some work on other Brexit matters like trade; watch this space for details of our Brexit events programme.

Here are some key member activities already in the diary:

  • We’re holding Partner and senior business leaders’ dinners with Amber Rudd MP (26 April), the Home Secretary, as well as Chuka Umunna MP (20 February) and Kate Perrior, former Director of Communications for PM Theresa May (20 March)
  • We plan to run an event with the new Immigration Minister in the spring.
  • We will respond to the Migration Advisory Committee’s call for evidence on international students this month, and the Immigration White Paper, expected in February
  • Following Building London Week, we’ll continue the Brexit debate at MIPIM in March

We look forward to working with members to cut a path through the noise, helping us stand the best chance of securing the Brexit outcome that London deserves.

Posted in Homepage, Blog