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CBI/CBRE: London firms want Mayor to play key Brexit role

Following the UK’s vote to the leave the EU, businesses want the city’s mayor to play a leading role in influencing Brexit negotiations, according to the latest CBI/CBRE London Business Survey. The survey was carried out between 28 June and 17 July 2016.

Among the businesses in the capital surveyed, investment and hiring intentions remain resilient - over two fifths (41%) of firms said they plan to maintain their investment plans, and half (50%) plan to continue to hire, after the Referendum. Uncertainty over the UK’s role in the EU emerged as the most significant cause for concern (75% of firms), followed by retaining the best people for the job (49%) and a lack of appropriately skilled staff (44%).

Turning to the skills gap, there is a sense of concern amongst the capital’s employers about the level of skills in the workforce. Nearly half of firms (46%) lack staff with necessary higher-level skills – including digital (33%), engineering (22%) and financial (12%) – and over two fifths (42%) aren’t confident of finding sufficiently skilled people for their business. Close to two thirds (56%) of companies will retrain staff over the next five years.

With close to three quarters (69%) of businesses saying high housing costs are impacting their ability to recruit and retain skilled staff, delivering affordable housing tops the list (54%) of London firms’ priorities for Mayor Sadiq Khan. The next biggest priority for almost the same number of firms (53%) is that the Mayor plays a key role in influencing the UK’s negotiations with the EU, as it navigates exiting the bloc.

Over four fifths (81%) of the businesses surveyed feel less optimistic about the economy for the next six months, compared with the previous six months. Only 4% of firms feel more optimistic, whilst 8% feel the same way about their own business prospects for the next half year.

Lucy Haynes, CBI London Director, said:

“As the implications of Brexit continue to be digested by London’s firms, it’s clear they want to see the Mayor given a seat at the table in the UK’s negotiations to leave the EU. His influence will be critical in ensuring the capital’s companies have the best environment in which to grow, create jobs and boost prosperity throughout the city. And let’s not forget that a thriving London has the knock-on effect of driving prosperity around the country.

“Another key piece of that puzzle is having the right skills in place. With close to half of firms concerned about their employees’ skills – particularly digital and engineering skills – business and the Government must continue to work together to equip those entering work with the hard and soft skills needed to be successful.

“Infrastructure also weighs heavily on London’s businesses minds. The Mayor must deliver sorely needed upgrades on the Tube network, and press ahead with getting shovels in the ground on Crossrail 2.

“A commitment to improving skills, housing and transport will enable the city to attract and retain a talented workforce, and continue to compete with the cream of the crop of the world’s greatest cities.”

Adam J. Hetherington, Managing Director – London, CBRE UK, said:

“The challenge facing London and the UK as a whole is not to be underestimated, but in the weeks since the referendum, a sense of renewed positivity and confidence has emerged, with the capital reinforcing its position at the global top table.

“The property sector has demonstrated impressive resilience in the months since the EU referendum, with rents holding firm over the summer, and the final few months of the year will provide us with a better idea of the overall direction of market sentiment. No matter what, London businesses need to unite to ensure the city continues to go from strength to strength.”

Improving the city’s transport infrastructure remains a pre-eminent issue for London’s businesses. Two thirds (67%) wish to see upgrades to the existing London Underground network, whilst over a half (55%) want a commitment from City Hall to start building Crossrail 2 and one third (31%) hope for greater investment in the capital’s road network.

Meanwhile, graduates and school leavers are viewed as performing well in the workplace, with two thirds of firms saying they performed well at team working (65%), IT (65%) and problem solving and creative thinking (60%).

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