London must up its game to remain ‘head office’ for world business, says report

London must up its game to remain ‘head office’ for world business, says report

London remains a top global destination for international business headquarters ahead of Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, New York and Paris, but its status is far from secure, according to a new report from think tank Centre for London.

Launching the report today, its co-author, Jack Brown, described London’s attraction for global business as “a success story, and a rare productivity success story too”. However, the report spells out the need to meet challenges to this position, with continuing access to international as well as home grown talent described as “the most influential element” and “a welcoming, inclusive attitude to immigration” urged.

The report, entitled Head Office: London’s rise and future as a corporate sector also stressed the need to tackle the problem of high housing costs and to improve transport connectivity and infrastructure. It found that head office functions have boosted investment, jobs and visitor revenue both directly and indirectly, as well as symbolising the London’s competitiveness and supporting innovation.

The launch took place in the heady surroundings of 22 Bishopsgate, the 62-storey tower set to be the tallest building in the City when completed this year and itself testament to the continuing lure of London as commercial centre.

London’s ability to maintain its global status was about more than Brexit, said Brown: “If you read the news you’d think these companies are either all about to flee, or they are all staying and everything is fine. The reality is more complicated than that. The wider impact of Brexit is yet to be seen.”

According to a 2018 Boston Consulting Group worldwide survey cited in the report, London has remained, “the most attractive city in the world to move to”, and HQ decisions by Google to move to King’s Cross, Apple to take space in Battersea for 1,400 staff and Bloomberg choosing to host its 4,000-strong European HQ workforce in a new £1 billion Stirling Prize-winning building in the City underlined the point.

But there have been warning signs too, such as the beginning of a slowdown in HQ job creation and a dip in business visit numbers and business spend in London since 2016, along with a fall in  direct foreign investment projects, though with recent signs of recovery.

The report calls for action to maintain London’s reputation for openness and its talent levels, including lobbying for an open, welcoming immigration policy and even considering regional immigration policies, along with a greater push on promoting London and the rest of the UK to investors.

“We need to keep monitoring London’s health as HQ City, and above all we must stay open and welcoming,” Brown concluded.

Also speaking at the launch, Laura Citron, chief executive of the City Hall-backed promotional agency London and Partners, warned that the capital was falling behind competitor cities in seeking inward investment. “We need to up our game. We are investing half what Paris and Berlin are putting in to this kind of work.”

She also stressed the importance of maintaining international links and keeping student numbers up: “People are four times more likely to invest here if they have visited, and seven times more likely to invest if they have studied here as graduate students.”

In a statement backing the report, Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of business lobby group London First, called for an immigration system recognising the needs of the capital. “We must avoid turning off the tap on global talent.”


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