London-New York Dialogue – what will protect the leading status of the two World Cities?

Today saw the latest in the series of meetings on the London – New York Dialogue, promoted by the Urban Land Institute.  Having been involved in many of the predecessor discussions, originally sponsored by Greater London Enterprise, over the last fifteen years or so, it was good to go along and hear how ideas are developing particularly in the light of the world economic crisis.

The opening keynote address was given by Dan Doctoroff, who was Mayor Bloomberg’s Deputy for Economic Development until the beginning of this year when he moved (interestingly) to be President of Bloomberg (his boss’s old firm).  He pointed out that this was the twelfth major economic crisis since New York became a major financial centre in the late 18th Century, and that New York (and London) had ultimately emerged strengthened from the previous eleven. 

The measure he used to assess the crisis was the number of Bloomberg Terminal installations in businesses around both cities: the total had risen by around 60% over the four years to the end of 2007, but the number had then flat-lined.  This flat-lining, however, does not imply stability – there is substantial churn in the figures with a fall-off in the large firms but plenty of new installations in smaller financial firms. As he put it: “Financial services are Darwinian” and this churn is a healthy sign for the future.

He emphasised the importance of London and New York not seeing each other as competitors but as collaborators – the word I would have used would have been symbiotic – and this led to a strong plea for stronger links between the two cities.

He characterised three factors as being required for the continued success of world financial centres like London and New York: firstly, that the cities are English-speaking (this may be something of a tautology); secondly, that they have a diverse population with “immigrant energy” (there has been a net inflow into London of around a million people from overseas in the last ten years); and thirdly, that being a forward-looking financial centre is “in the DNA”.

However, the position of London and New York is not necessarily assured.  It will be essential to maintain their infrastructure – in particular, transport, personal safety/security, and quality of life.  Neither city can afford to sacrifice any of these in the aftermath of the current crisis.  Moreover, because of the critical role both cities play in their national economies, both cities need to energise their national governments in their support (this is particularly true for London whose impact in supporting the rest of the UK economy is crucial).

I asked him how important he saw the need to maintain social cohesion and address economic inequalities in cities.  He answered that it was a vital part of maintaining a quality of life conducive to a stable future.

Two issues occurred to me.  First, Mayor Bloomberg’s vision for New York (PlaNYC), which Doctoroff had a key role in devising, with its 127 integrated initiatives affecting the environment, housing and transport is far more ambitious and cohesive than anything that has yet emerged from Mayor Johnson’s office in London. 

Second, much more needs to be done to put the case for London to have the resources necessary to maintain and improve its infrastructure.  Successive UK Governments have short-changed the capital, despite London’s key role as a driver of the UK economy.  A start could be made with the capital’s business rates.  At present, all business rates are levied  by local councils on the businesses in their area at a standard rate set by national government.  That money is not, however, for the local councils to use.  Instead, it is passed en bloc to the Treasury, who redistribute it back to local government pro rata in respect of population.  For the local authorities in London, this is a net loss each year of around £2 billion.  In essence, London’s businesses are subsidising those in the rest of the country by that amount.  Think how useful a £2 billion per annum contribution to a London Infrastructure Fund would be …..

More evidence that Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse has a sense of humour?

Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse is the subject of a double page profile in today’s ‘Evening Standard’. Underneath the inevitable full frontal photo of the great man in front of London’s skyline and the headline ‘I pray every day there is not another teen killing’ are two more pieces of evidence that underneath the steelly exterior a sense of humour is trying to get out.

First, having admitted to a history as a chartered accountant (in my view there are limits as to how far such personal revelations should go), he tells the following story: “A woman goes to the doctor and he says: ‘I’m terribly sorry, you’re terminally ill, you’ve got six months to live.’ She says: ‘Oh my god, there must be something that can extend my life.’ He thinks a while and says: ‘ Well, you could marry a chartered accountant.’ ‘Will that make me live longer?’ she asks. ‘No,’ he says, ‘but it will seem longer.’ “

Not bad, but I prefer the following:
“An economist goes into a bar, buys a drink, turns to those standing next to him and says ‘Do you want to hear my joke about chartered accountants?’ The man standing next to him says ‘I should warn you that my friend here is 6 foot 4, weighs 21 stone, played rugby for Wales, is a karate black belt and a chartered accountant. In addition, I am 6 foot 3, weigh 20 stone, was a heavy-weight boxer at college, am a Millwall supporter and I too am a chartered accountant. Do you still want to tell your joke about chartered accountants?’ The economist replied ‘Er no I don’t think so. I don’t want to have to explain it twice.’ “

And the second piece of evidence: the Deputy Mayor says ‘he is uncomfortable with the “Boris hit-man” reputation attached to him by the Home Office’. Oh come on on Kit, pull the other one – we all know you love it.

When is an awayday not an awayday? How to make MPA members “bond”!

Today the new-look Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) had an “awayday”.
Traditionally, organisations hold these in expensive country house style venues, miles from anywhere, stay overnight to “bond” and use them to agree anodyne mission statements.
The MPA approach was different: the venue was less than 100 yards from New Scotland Yard and the MPA offices, and, while the St Ermin’s Hotel has a fairly grand facade, it has seen better days. (In fact, in its better days it was the place where all the right-wing plots in the Labour Party from the 1950s through to the 1980s were hatched see Fightback: Labour’s Traditional Right in the 1970s and 1980s by Dianne Hayter. I am not sure that this particular history would have endeared the venue to the MPA’s new leadership.) The day itself lasted till about 3.00pm and the bonding occurred because the room was so small that members were crammed knee-to-knee in enforced intimacy.

Boris Johnson at All-Party London Group

Mayor Boris Johnson came to the House of Lords All-Party London Group (a strange mix of peers including a few ex-MPs and ex-AMs from London plus others interested and chaired by Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, son of the World War II Field Marshall).  I asked the Mayor about the duty he has under the Greater London Authority Act to promote equality of opportunity for everyone within London.  This duty is dear to my heart having moved an amendment to get something like this included in the Bill when I was a new-ish member of the House of Lords.  I was pleased to hear the Mayor say that he had realised how important this was as he had campaigned for the job around London, although surprised – perhaps only slightly – that it had not occurred to him until then.  He went on to say that he is in favour of celebrating all the major religious festivals and making progress on recruiting more black and minority ethnic police officers.  So that’s good to know.  Obiously, there will have to be a bit more to it than that though …..