Speaking to an audience of the capital’s business leaders and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, at the CBI's London Summer Reception, CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn called for a lasting partnership between business and City Hall to tackle the major problems facing the city, from climate change to housing.
First, a warm welcome to the Mayor of London – we’re so glad you could join us this evening. And thank you to Investec – for your magnificent roof terrace.
It reminds me of something that Charles Dickens once said. That the streets of London are so striking they can be appreciated… even by those of us engaged in ‘the unfortunate pursuits of business’.
Of course so many fortunate pursuits represented here tonight – you are all so very welcome
Now when it comes to London and business, there’s plenty I could say. I could talk about London’s history – its roots in trade and enterprise. Or about the unique role London plays in the UK economy. I could give even give you my riveting 50 page Brexit powerpoint presentation. I have it with me and it is awfully good.
But actually, I want to touch on something different. I want to talk about the partnership between business and government in London. And how we could put it to work even harder to solve some of London’s biggest challenges.
Working in partnership
At the CBI, we work at the intersection of business and politics. Two very different worlds – too different at times. Our job is to connect them.
And whenever society is faced with a challenge, the common question is: Is this a problem for business to solve, or for government?
It can be tempting to think that the big problems we face today: climate change, housing crisis, violence, inequality are so pressing, and so difficult that they can only be tackled only by government. With business as spectators, done to rather than done with.
I just don’t think this is right. It’s precisely because these problems are so pressing and so difficult that the role of business matters so much.
The answer to the question: “government or business?” is not one or the other. It’s both. It must be a partnership.
So what does this mean for London, here in the real world.
Well, as we are joined today by the Mayor of London, I thought we might take this opportunity, Sadiq, to consider some of your ambitions for the city and how business can help them become realities.
And there are 3 areas – all priorities you have spoken about – where we believe business can make a real and profound difference.
Net zero carbon agenda
First, the environment. Sadiq, you’ve said one of your goals is for London to be carbon neutral and to have the best air quality of any major city by 2050.
A goal that we at the CBI are squarely behind. Because it is increasingly clear that the transition we so badly need won’t happen without business. Without firms developing clean technologies. Without them investing in research. And without them delivering electric vehicles – and the infrastructure to support them.
It’s been incredibly striking to me that when I visit CBI member companies and talk about carbon-cutting, or climate change, I don’t find hesitatation or reluctance. I find excitement and ideas. So let’s work together.
We have different but vital roles. Government providing a stable framework and goals. Business investing to innovate and change. Both working to support consumers and build confidence in a different kind of energy environment. What a team.
The second ambition we know we can help you with is housing.
Your goal is terrific. Every Londoner to have access to a good quality home, at a price they can afford. Easy to say, but a hugely complex issue, with no easy answers.
Again, it’s time for a working partnership. This is what we saw the last time the UK faced a housing crisis of this scale. When Harold MacMillan joined with the private sector on the most successful house-building programmes in British history, building around 300,00 homes a year. Proof of what can be done.
Of course, we live in different times. But the principle – this spirit of partnership – remains the same and can be just as powerful today.
Jobs and opportunity
Now, the final example is trickier. Because one of your big goals, Sadiq, has been – and still is to make London safer.
And it might not seem like business has much of a role here. And I’d agree that on the face of it we don’t
On the frontlines, at the times of crisis, our brilliant police force and social services are the true heroes and we all place our trust in their skills and experience to keep us safe.
But business does have a big part to play – in building the foundations for a safer world. By enabling social mobility, creating good jobs, investing in communities. These are the bricks that, over time, enable us to build a society at ease with itself.
Business connects people. It creates opportunity. It creates shared interest, a common purpose …even among people very different from one another.
And, most of important of all, it creates jobs. We know there is no better route out of a bad start than a good job.
But here, too, I believe we as business need to do more. And for me, driving change has to start early. We know, for example, that getting business leaders into schools can make a huge difference.
As I never tire of repeating, if a young person has 4 engagements with businesses at school, they are 5 times less likely to be unemployed as adults.
It can be as simple as offering work experience, taking to the stage at an assembly, or becoming a governor.
At the CBI, we are leading a campaign to help more schools connect with business and vice versa. Do shout if you want to know more. We won’t stop till every business and every school is involved.
So I’d like to end by thanking the Mayor. For standing up for business. For standing up for London on the global stage. And for keeping London open – to talent and people from around the world.
You have done so much. But we all know there is so much still to do.
Now here’s our proposal from the world of business:
Our door is open, our time and resources are yours to help you tackle the problems London faces.
If we can build a lasting partnership, business & government together. Imagine what we can achieve.
A global, open, and safe city. Where all are welcome to start and run a business, powered by clean energy, affordable homes to attract and retain our great talent, jobs and opportunities to connect and change lives, right from the earliest years.
As Dennis Gabor, nobel prize winning scientist said nearly 70 years ago – we can’t predict the future, but we can invent it’
It feels like there’s never been a better time for us to be working together to invent the next exciting chapter in London’s future.