Keeping our capital working for the UK

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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.

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