Annual summer lunch – there’s much to celebrate, but momentum must be maintained
26 June 2019
This week the capital’s business leaders convened in the grounds of Westminster Abbey for our annual summer lunch, with guest speaker George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Editor of the Evening Standard.
As the Conservative leadership election rumbles on and Brexit hangs in the balance, the lunch was a timely opportunity to take stock of the political landscape and look ahead to the challenges and opportunities for London and its businesses.
London First’s Chair Paul Drechsler opened proceedings by pointing to the breadth of London’s strength, with six international airports, 40 universities and 250 foreign banks alongside 3,500 pubs, 300 nightclubs, more than 170 museums and so much more.
But he also highlighted the need for a rallying cry for London to keep our capital “open to people, to investment, to talent, to growth and to joy and success for the next generation,” and called on the next Prime Minister to help business by taking a no deal Brexit off the table.
Carol Hui, Heathrow Chief of Staff and General Counsel, speaking exactly a year after MPs voted to approve the airport’s expansion, praised their relationship with London First and spoke of the importance of the project for both the capital and for the wider UK.
Ms Hui stressed the importance of sustainability to Heathrow, explaining that the airport has been “working hard to show [our] expansion can happen in the most sustainable way possible,” including through the introduction of a Heathrow Ultra Low Emission Zone. She said Heathrow is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2020 and to operate zero carbon airport infrastructure by 2050.
In his opening remarks George Osborne agreed that London is an incredible city, and argued that its current momentum must be maintained, regardless of who the next Prime Minister is. Mr Osborne stressed that investments in infrastructure, culture, science, technology and environmentalism can all be locally led, without waiting on the UK government.
However, Mr Osborne also called for greater devolution of power to London, using Manchester’s control over the NHS as an example: “Why not devolve the NHS here in London too? Non-partisan devolution can happen here and now.”
The former Chancellor of the Exchequer was unambiguous in his view that no deal Brexit is “undeliverable” in the current Parliament and that talk of bypassing MPs will not work. However, he issued a warning that “Brexit isn’t going to go away” with uncertainty continuing for “the foreseeable future”. Mr Osborne also spoke on the importance of the Northern Powerhouse to London, agreeing with London First that “It’s in London’s interest that the rest of the country does well.”
Closing the lunch, London First’s Chief Executive Jasmine Whitbread paid tribute to the capital as not just the biggest city in western Europe, but “the most progressive, culturally rich, diverse and creative – a city people want to call home.” She issued a call to politicians to “talk our capital up, not down” and to recognise that “London is an innovator, an inspiration – that it has made good, but needs champions to stay that way.”
Thank you to Heathrow Airport for their support as sponsor of the 2019 annual Summer Business Lunch.
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