London needs to reinvent itself in the eyes of the rest of the UK and act now to strengthen relations with businesses, local government and institutions across the country. This is according to a new report from think tank Centre for London.
The report, London, UK finds that London has a serious image problem amongst both decision makers and the general public. It calls on city leaders to strengthen relations with the rest of the country by establishing a powerful alliance of UK Mayors, running international trade delegations so that London and the rest of the country can bid for business together, and opening ‘regional embassies’ to provide a space for British companies to do business in the capital.
Drawing on interviews with local government officials, MPs, business and cultural leaders from across the UK, as well as a YouGov poll of 2,000 British people, the research reveals that:
The benefit of London’s economy is not felt locally: London contributes a great deal to the UK economy, raising £32.6 billion more in tax revenue than it received in public spending in 2016-17. Every UK region outside the Wider South East receives more than they raise, but 68 per cent of non-Londoners do not think that London contributes to their local economy.
London is seen as inaccessible by a majority of non-Londoners: While a majority express pride in London, just 3 per cent of Brits think of London as a place for UK residents to visit, and a huge majority (78 per cent) said that they didn’t think that living and working in London was “a realistic option for people like me”.
London is seen as part of the Westminster bubble: Non-Londoners primarily think of London’s role as the home of Parliament and government (22 per cent). This, in turn, helps to fuel perceptions of a London-centric bias in national decisions. Interviews with decision makers revealed that many felt that London gets an unfair amount of public funding – and not just for transport, but for public services in general.
The report goes on to highlight positive examples of politicians, businesses and cultural institutions working together to strengthen ties across the country. From knowledge sharing between London and Manchester’s transport bodies, to joint tourism initiatives and private sector collaboration, good progress is being made. But the report urges city leaders to do more to ensure London fulfils its role as England and the UK’s capital.
To achieve this, it recommends:
- Tell British people that “London is Yours” and embrace London’s role as a capital city
Leaders need to change London’s narrative to show that the city embraces its role as the UK’s capital. This new narrative must acknowledge that the success of the UK’s other cities and regions is in London’s interests. It should also tell the British people that ‘London is Yours’ through a campaign modelled on the successful ‘London is Open’ campaign, led by the Mayor of London, mayoral agencies and other London leaders.
- Formalise a powerful UK Alliance of Mayors
The report calls for a more formalised UK Alliance of Mayors to be established, building on existing collaborations. This powerful Alliance should lobby the government for greater devolution of powers, to allow individual cities and regions to better address their specific needs. It should also lead cross-party advocacy on shared issues, making the case for investment across the country.
- Encourage cities and regions to bid for business together
London should be doing more to spread economic prosperity and soft power across the country. Institutions such as London & Partners and the capital’s business membership organisations should work even more closely with regional partners to bid for business together, through multi-city-region international trade delegations and joint pitches for international investment.
- Establish regional embassies in London
London is an important meeting space for businesses. The report recommends the creation of more regional ‘embassy’ spaces in the capital, to give UK businesses a temporary home in the capital and to take advantage of London’s position as a hub for international businesses and investment opportunities.
- Spread London’s cultural capital across the country
To ensure that people across the UK can share in the benefits of London’s world-class cultural offering, the report suggests creating a series of cultural exchange programmes while expanding the practice of London-based institutions sending exhibits, attractions and experts ‘on tour’ across the country.
Dr Jack Brown, Senior Researcher at Centre for London said:
“To the outsider, London may appear self-interested, resource-greedy and distant. The city has work to do to show that it takes its national role as the capital of England and the UK seriously.
“London contributes hugely to national life, not to mention its vital economic role. But simply stating that the capital redistributes its wealth around the country is not enough. We must move beyond the figures and make the case for London’s place at the heart of its nation.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP, Co-Chair of the Northern Powerhouse All Party Parliamentary Group said:
“This report is a welcome assessment of London’s strengths and what more it could do to serve the nation and the towns and cities of the North.
“I have long argued that if the North can raise its game, it will be good for UK plc and open up economic opportunities for the people of the North. Likewise, to achieve new jobs, growth and inward investment, we need some big changes. A new outward-looking policy would mean an end to London v the rest, where London is an active partner to the regions in spreading the prosperity and new opportunities.
“If the whole nation can share in gains of one of the world’s great city regions – this would be a welcome step forward.”
Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, Greater London Authority said:
“London makes an incredibly positive contribution to the UK – driving jobs, growth and prosperity the length and breadth of the country. It is in everyone’s best interest for London to thrive – but it is also crucial that we work closely with other cities and regions to ensure this benefit is shared.
“At City Hall, we often feel as far away from Whitehall as other parts of the UK. This is one of the reasons that Sadiq has built strong working relationships with other Metro Mayors.
“This report is further evidence that the Government needs a proper plan to tackle our deep-seated regional inequalities alongside a comprehensive overhaul in the way our country is governed, with as many responsibilities as possible devolved down to nations, regions, towns and cities, including fiscal powers.”
Cllr Peter John OBE, Chair of London Councils, said:
“We wholeheartedly agree that developing a more positive dialogue between London and other city regions is vital. There is untapped potential in London’s relationships with the rest of the country that if realised could boost local government, the economy and jobs market and transport infrastructure across the UK.
“There’s work to be done, but London boroughs are determined to play our part in building strong partnerships with all parts of the UK to secure greater devolution from Whitehall.”
Cllr Nickie Aiken, Leader of Westminster City Council, said:
“The West End is an economic engine of the UK – a major employer, a world-famous retailer, an entertainer on the world stage with an unmatched range of restaurants and theatres.
“As this report shows, a successful West End generates wealth not just in London, but across the country. From the restaurants that support Cornish fisheries to Scotland’s whisky trade and the Savile Row tailors dependent on the wool industry, the supply chain benefits the nation. Today’s research shows we have to work harder at making these benefits clearer to the rest of the country.
“At Westminster City Council, we’re planning for the future with a regeneration scheme for the Oxford Street District which will ensure it remains a global draw. That can only be good news as the country seeks new international trade opportunities post-Brexit and as we make sure Westminster is truly a City for All.”
Catherine McGuinness, Policy Chair at the City of London Corporation, said:
“London is an asset for people and businesses in the UK, Europe and the world.
“Collaboration, not competition, must be at the centre of our mission to ensure the capital and the UK thrive economically, culturally and socially. I welcome the recommendations in this report designed to spread prosperity and strengthen London’s links across the country.”
Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Henri Murison said:
“The concerns expressed by many in the North about the centralisation of our political decision making, and the lack of detailed understanding in Whitehall of the UK as a whole, should not be simplified as being about London. Our criticisms of what has led to lower productivity here are not directed at Londoners or their Mayor, Sadiq Khan. In fact, the Greater London Authority is a good case study for what powerful Mayors across the North can, and will continue, to achieve. We should not see future Permanent Secretaries appointed without experience of government departments in the wider public sector or industry, and placements in local government and Mayors’ offices should be undertaken from the Tees Valley to Tower Hamlets.
“That is why I am particularly pleased to see the recommendation about the alliance of mayors. Our Metro Mayors in the North work together closely on all areas affecting people in the Northern Powerhouse, including through Transport for the North. Achieving further and more meaningful devolution for the North is at the top of our priorities, to ensure collaborative working across traditional regional boundaries and realise the economic potential of the Northern Powerhouse.
“Investment in infrastructure is not a zero-sum game. London’s growth needs to be provided for, through schemes like Crossrail 2, and in the North, we need Northern Powerhouse Rail committed to as soon as possible in order to unlock growth. This won’t happen without a virtual city which can be equal to London. As productive but different from our capital by 2050. World leading and world-beating as London is and must remain.”
Cllr Bob Egerton, Portfolio Holders for Planning and Economy, Cornwall Council said:
“Our geographical distance has always made it essential for Cornwall to establish strong links with London as both an economic partner and a place to do business.
“Post-Brexit, Cornwall will continue to make the most of every opportunity to be proactive in promoting Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly both in London, across the UK and beyond.
“Cornwall Council supports the establishment of a ‘Cornish Embassy’ in London which will provide a recognised base for Cornish organisations to meet, showcase their products, share opportunities and conduct business in the capital.”
Notes to Editors
- Centre for London is the capital’s dedicated think tank. Politically independent and a registered charity, the Centre aims to make London a fairer and more prosperous global city. The Centre publishes research, holds events and collaborates widely to influence policy making.
- This report has been generously supported by Major Sponsors: City of London Corporation, Greater London Authority, London Councils, Transport for London, Westminster City Council and Supporting Sponsors: London Property Alliance (CPA/WPA), New West End Company.
- Polling: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample sizes were 1218 in London and 1883 in the rest of GB. Fieldwork was undertaken between 3-6 September 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of London adults and GB adults outside London (aged 18+) respectively. YouGov are a member of the British Polling Council and abide by their rules.