A natural partner of choice
With a 43-year career as a shipbroker at the heart of the City of London, I have been lucky enough to have a ringside seat for the development of globalisation over recent years. I have also seen during those four decades just how the world has got a little bit smaller, while at the same time we’ve seen the rapid growth of economic powers like China, India and large swathes of the Asian and African continents, all of which are emerging with huge prominence on the international stage.
I too have ‘emerged’ recently – taking up office as the 688th Lord Mayor of the City of London. During the course of this one-year role I will visit 28 countries, acting as an ambassador and champion for the UK’s financial and professional services sector and illustrating the whole spectrum of benefits that this sector can bring to markets all over the world.
Over the approximately 100 days that I’ll spend abroad, I will meet government ministers, regulators, governors of central banks and captains of industry, discussing the virtues of a strong economic partnership with the City and how such a partnership might be able to benefit these countries.
Malta is the first of those 28 countries and it is an honour to be here. But it is by no means the only Commonwealth country that I will visit.
On the contrary: my schedule includes time in India, Zambia, Mauritius, Northern Ireland and Scotland. For most of these visits I will take with me a strong delegation of UK business representatives from across the spectrum of financial and professional services. The delegation will help me showcase the City’s sparkling offer.
The Commonwealth is a global market of incredible strength and enviable economic diversity, rich with opportunities for trade. Comprising 53 countries and over a third of the world’s population, we cannot ignore the vast investment and business opportunities that are on offer.
My job is to begin to translate this ‘potential energy’ into deals done, contracts signed and jobs created, both in the UK and overseas and in an immensely broad range of industries.
Some might think the City simply represents nothing more than a banking centre. While banking is certainly an important part of the UK’s economy, employing over 400,000 people, the City represents much, much more than that. We are the leading exporter of all sorts of financial services across the world, with 2.1 million people employed in the sector across the UK and a trade surplus that is double that of our nearest competitor.
And what else can we offer? As the world’s leading financial centre, London and the rest of the UK act as a gateway for global trade with the wider European market. We have some of the world’s best financial and professional services firms here that are experienced and world leaders in everything, from raising finance to capital investment, and from legal dispute resolution to financial technology.
This is why I have been really looking forward to attend the Commonwealth Business Forum this week.
Innovation will be at the heart of my work this year and is why my theme for the year is ‘Innovate here. Succeed anywhere’. It simply means that whoever you are, whatever your business, regardless of the markets you operate in or the scale of your ambition, the UK can help launch your business onto the global stage.
Much of the City’s effectiveness in this area comes from our openness. While centuries ago there may have been a stone wall that surrounded the Square Mile, keeping those outside at bay, today we welcome those from across the globe who want to come here, work hard and succeed.
Recently, the other mayor in London, Boris Johnson, proposed the idea of a Commonwealth visa, allowing Commonwealth citizens who study in London to stay in the UK for two years after they finish their qualification.
This is an immensely interesting idea which, while needing some development, could help retain our competitiveness and help attract even more of the brightest and best from across the globe. Just like Malta, the City realises that we cannot survive and thrive in isolation.
Of course the UK doesn’t simply start and end with London. Businesses find our wide choice of metropolitan hubs to be a really attractive part of the UK’s offer, and they are right to do so – from the hugely impressive financial campuses in the south, to the buzzing media hubs in the north, opportunities and experts abound from coast to coast.
Cities like Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Belfast are all attractive locations for commercial partnerships, and over the coming 12 monthsI will visit them all to see for myself their unique range of qualities.
If I were able to make sure that just one message remains after my time in Malta, it would be this: the UK is a natural partner of choice, not just for the Commonwealth nations, but for every nation that has ambitious plans to grow their economy.
We want to see open trade, cross-border investment and commercial opportunities as the drivers of this growth. The UK’s financial and professional services firms stand ready to help facilitate this.
Alderman Jeffrey Mountevans is Lord Mayor of the City of London, international ambassador and champion for the UK’s financial and profession services sector.