London goes to ManchesterOctober 8, 2015
Aviation Minister Robert Goodwill had barely finished addressing Sunday’s Let Britain Fly drinks reception – while pleading ignorance of the government’s view on runway expansion, naturally – when the first big announcement leaked out of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
It took the form of Lord Adonis’ installation as chair of a new National Infrastructure Commission – a body set up by George Osborne to advise the government on new infrastructure projects.
One of his commission’s first tasks will be to consider Crossrail 2, which shows the Treasury is taking the case for this vital piece of infrastructure seriously.
At the same time, it bodes well for airport expansion that the government has looked at Howard Davies’ commission and decided it’s a good way of going about things. If the government now ignores the Airports Commission, what does that say about how this new commission will fare?
Incidentally, whispers abounded that a Government decision about another runway is imminent. Watch this space.
Jo Valentine discusses Lord Adonis with BBC London
Sticks and Stones
The atmosphere was buoyant in the conference area. No doubt the joy of a majority government and the clement weather were the chief drivers. But getting past a very aggressive set of protestors at the gate without being egged was also a contributor.
Indeed, those of us who escaped the dairy onslaught had to be content with being labelled ‘scum’. Boris Johnson later lamented the sporting abilities of the protestors in his conference speech. Having run the gauntlet himself, he declared “we need to do more to encourage sport in schools, because they managed to miss their target with every projectile”.
First of the big hitters to take the stage was Chancellor George Osborne, who announced that the Uniform Business Rate is to be abolished with local authorities set to retain business rate income. Local authorities will also have the power to reduce business rates, while authorities that adopt an elected mayor will have the power to increase business rates slightly, with the consent of the business members of their LEP.
This is qualified good news: devolution should give local authorities the incentive to support the investment in infrastructure and the public realm that will generate jobs and growth.
But we now need to get stuck into the small print. Will councils are able to retain any increased revenues over time? And how exactly will these new powers be split between the GLA and councils?
Lording it over delegates
The subject gave CEO Baroness Jo Valentine the chance to climb the steps of LBC radio’s grandiose makeshift studio that towered over the conference and offered a grand view of the conference, reproduced below.
Stalls ranged from Google Cardboard (an impressive 3D gadget), to electronic clay pigeon shooting (strangely absent from the Labour Party conference), and one inventive group giving away bundles of fake money.
But all was not sweetness and light within the halls. Home Secretary Teresa May got the bit well and truly between her teeth, announcing tough new measures to deal with immigration to the UK.
Two particular aspects of the speech hit home in a way that the protestors and their projectiles failed to. Firstly was the anti-immigrant tone that peddled the myth of immigrants ‘Coming For Your Jobs!’ Not only is this not true (they are much more likely to fill jobs we either don’t want to do, or can’t do), but in filling skills gaps they create greater demand and opportunities for the rest of us. Moreover, speeches like this give the impression that foreigners aren’t welcome, which is just what we don’t need. (Our recent submission to the Migration Advisory Committee sets out in detail our position on Government plans to restrict access to talent.)
‘I don’t care what lobbyists say’
The Home Secretary’s then turned to badgering international students. Her assertion that “I don’t care what the university lobbyists say” was met with polite indignation from the London First corner of the conference hall.
And so it should have been. Our research with PwC showed these students make a net contribution to the London economy of £2.3 billion and are huge a British export success. We need to look at how we can do more to give visas to talented, foreign-born graduates who’ve been educated here and whose skills could be of great benefit to the country.
So it was with some relief that we heard rumblings at conference that our campaign to have international students removed from the government’s migration targets seems to be gaining traction. Sources say both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are all for it.
Then it was time for the Boris and Zac Shows. It was good to hear Mr Goldsmith – hoping to step into Mr Johnson’s shoes come May – make addressing the housing crisis the chief thrust of his speech.
He restated his plan to create an investment vehicle for institutional investors and others wanting to park money in London property and went on to note ‘high density doesn’t have to mean high rise’. In the spirit of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, we were delighted with this as it was the core message of our density report, released recently in conjunction with Savills.
This desire to spur greater development was also reflected in the Prime Minister’s speech, where he called for a ‘housing crusade’. All these messages are good, but messages and targets don’t get the job done.
Jo Valentine and Zac Goldsmith
We need the new mayor – whomsoever that may be – to be brave in policy making and then take difficult decisions. We will soon be launching a major new campaign to help keep at the forefront of their minds.
Crossrail 2 in the ground
When Boris finally got round to talking about London in his speech (you’d think he wanted to be party leader or something), he said he was confident we will get Crossrail 2 ‘into the ground’ by the end of the next decade.
With both Boris and the Treasury seemingly on board there are good reasons to be cheerful about the progress of this scheme, which could unlock 200,000 new homes in the capital and provide vital new transport capacity.
The Mayor also committed to getting the Night Tube and referred to the Northern Line extension to Battersea as the ‘Wandsworth Powerhouse’.
We should also take a moment to recognise the ever-present elephant in the conference hall – the EU.
Among those mentioning it, Boris talked about getting the ‘right deal now from our EU partners, as I know David Cameron can’. For his part the PM said he had ‘no romantic attachment to the European Union and its institutions’ and that the EU was ‘too big, too bossy, too interfering’. But he was also clear what is right about it – it’s the biggest single market in the world.
Our members overwhelmingly believe that it is in London’s economic interest to be in the European Union. At the same they also recognise that the EU is not perfect and support its reform. In particular, they would like the EU to be more focused on global competitiveness and completing the Single Market.
From a London perspective, breaking down barriers to the digital and services markets is particularly important. These reforms will take a long time and are best negotiated from within.
All of which means we have interesting – and busy – times ahead. But on the plus side, the commute to work following the conference was that bit better upon realising no one wanted to pelt you with dairy products.