The Guardian has been running a series of “London versus England” articles, arguing:
“England is divided in more ways than one. From house prices to air pollution levels, a range of metrics depict a nation of differences. These divisions are particularly pronounced between London and the rest of the country.”
Its conclusion is London receives preferential treatment:
“The north is decades behind and will never catch up while London’s transport system is treated by government as the only one in the country worth subsidising, regulating and investing in.”
But is taking from London to give to other parts of the country the only way forward? There are other, more positive, approaches, one of which is to strengthen partnerships between London and the rest of the UK. Among the recommendations of the recent Centre for London report on that issue was this:
“London must provide spaces where regional businesses can take advantage of its connections to the rest of the world and help develop stronger spokes from London’s international hub, drawing investment out across the country.”
London is a key driver of the UK economy. Many businesses either have their headquarters here, or it will be their first port of call in the UK if they are considering investing. Centre for Cities research shows that London-headquartered businesses are the most prominent in over 60 UK cities outside London. Since 2008, firms those London-headquartered firms have increased the number of jobs in their branches in 49 of 62 cities outside the capital.
Also, London is an important market for goods produced across the UK. In 2014, London bought goods worth of over £405 billion from the rest of the UK, compared with £290 billion bought by the rest of the UK from London businesses.
More needs to be done to spread the economic activity drawn in by London around the country. We need to use London to show investors what our other great cities have to offer. We need to use London’s success to give the rest of the UK a platform to the world.
To help achieve this, the rest of the UK would benefit from the creation of a “London Embassy” to showcase business, products and innovation from towns, cities, regions outside London itself, as well as providing a space here in which to actually do business. Having a physical presence in London will help to strengthen the routes that draw investment outwards to the rest of the UK.
Those who say there is no need for this kind of initiative should remember that there are about 80 foreign promotion agencies with a presence in London, trying to persuade UK companies to invest overseas. UK towns and cities need to be on a level playing field in order to compete. The real contest is not London versus England, but the UK v The World’. We need to work together to win.