Business leaders are calling for London’s mayor to put a campaign against restrictive immigration rules at the centre of efforts to fend off threats to the city’s status as a leading global business centre.
Boris Johnson is also being urged to attract Asian companies to set up European headquarters in London as replacements for US and British companies that have left.
The recommendations come in a report to be presented on Friday at the annual meeting of Mr Johnson’s international business advisory council at City Hall, in response to the mayor’s call for a review of London’s competitiveness.
Booz & Co, the consultants, interviewed more than 50 business leaders, who said measures such as the planned 50p top tax rate and the £30,000 ($49,185) levy on non-domiciled residents were prompting individuals and companies to consider leaving London. The report urges the mayor to set up a small London competitiveness unit to strengthen his lobbying capability, with one of its priorities to launch a co-ordinated campaign on immigration.
Business leaders and foreign community representatives expressed “widespread concern” about the government’s points-based visa system, which they feared would damage London’s openness and diversity.
The campaign would aim to ensure the rules were applied in a way that did not damage London’s interests. One option could be a set charge for appeals, which would encourage only those with strong grounds to challenge the outcome of applications.
The report says eight companies have moved their headquarters from London since 2007, mainly for tax reasons: Yahoo, WPP, Kraft, Rolls-Royce Marine, Suntech, NYK, Regus and McDonald’s. They went to cities such as Geneva and Dublin, while three companies (Canon Europe, Vodafone and Lowe) came to London.
Over the next 15 years, up to 3,200 companies from China, Taiwan, South Korea and India may consider moving to Europe, according to the report.
Mr Johnson will tell the council: “Recent international and European surveys have consistently put London as the number one place to do business and invest in, but this is not the time to rest on our laurels.”
The mayor will pledge to continue lobbying on London’s competitiveness and on infrastructure improvements such as Crossrail and the Olympics, and lobbying government and the European Union on issues that matter to Londoners.
“I am under no illusion about the task ahead or the threats to London’s global dominance. The proposed national and international regulation that the City faces is a reaction to the financial services crisis but we must ensure that we don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” he will say.
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