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CBI: Protect London's position as magnet for workers from all over the world

Business and the Government must work together to create an approach to migration that protects and enhances London’s international position and addresses skills gaps, as well as dealing with public concerns, the CBI’s Director-General will say alongside the Mayor of London at the annual CBI London Lunch on Tuesday (11th October).

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Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, will also say that all sectors of the UK’s services sector need to retain barrier-free access to the EU single market.

At the Autumn Lunch, held at the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane Hotel, Carolyn will encourage firms to nurture London’s booming potential in innovative technology and tackle its challenge in addressing the housing shortage.

On immigration, Carolyn will say:

“We fully recognise public concerns about immigration. And when it comes to developing skills here in the UK, it is our firms who hold many of the solutions.

“Firms have more to gain than anyone from better skills. That’s why they already invest £45 billion a year in training. But in the last few years, they have cited skills shortages as the biggest barrier to future growth, so in our search for policy solutions, we need to be mindful that there are different types of immigration.

“There’s highly-skilled immigration. Many top financial services firms - in insurance, for example - come to London because they know they can access the best and brightest from around the world. And last week, the Chancellor rightly said that highly skilled workers are to be welcomed.

“Then there’s an export success story – our universities. Global brands which attract students from around the world, and which drive skills, innovation and exports. Across the UK, universities like UCL, City University, De Montfort University and the University of the West of England are working with business to help deliver the skills our economy needs.

“As Industrial Strategy takes shape more of this kind of co-operation will be vital. Yet undermining foreign students’ ability to study here could undermine British universities’ leading position.

“It is also time to talk more about lower skilled immigration. Speak to companies in lower skilled sectors, and many would love to hire more local applicants, but – right now – they just can’t get them. Without lower skilled workers from the EU, Britain would face serious labour shortages, putting key sectors in difficulty.

“So what’s the solution? In the past, the CBI and its members have worked closely with government on migration, and right now this is more important than ever. When it comes to EU citizens, we support sensible steps. However a much more restrictive system, like the one which applies to people from outside the EU, is not the answer.

 “In principle, EU students should be free to study here. And we must make sure that those sectors which rely on EU citizens – whether higher or lower skilled – can stay here.”

On tackling London’s housing shortage, Carolyn will say:

“London’s perennial challenge is housing. The Government’s recent announcement on building new homes is very welcome news.

“But as well as building homes, we also need to build whole communities. Business parks, transport links, green spaces, and so much more. All part of one, integrated plan.

“The Nine Elms project is a great example of this. A partnership between several London boroughs, Transport for London and housing developers. 16,000 new homes should come from the new Northern Line extension. And Battersea Power Station has already attracted some big names like Apple, who are moving their Regent Street HQ to the area in 2021.

“But co-operation should be the rule, not the exception. Two years ago, the last Mayor set up the Infrastructure Delivery Board, to help make London’s infrastructure delivery ‘joined-up’ and long-term until 2050.

“This Board has a crucial function. It should not be allowed to die after just two years. Instead, we’re calling on the Mayor to give it a new lease of life.”

On London’s thriving innovation scene, Carolyn will say:

“Innovation is one of London’s greatest strengths. But there’s a chance now for even more – a gear change to make an even greater stamp on the global stage.

“Just take Aviva Ventures, housed at Aviva’s digital garage in Shoreditch, investing in the Internet of Things, which has the potential to revolutionise health and car insurance as we know it. Our insurance sector is as dependent as banks on passports to operate effectively in the EU, and we at the CBI will keep pressure on government for all our service sectors to maintain their much valued barrier free access to the EU single market.

“Shoots of innovation are springing up across the Capital. Right now, you can all download a free Virtual Reality tour of Abbey Road Studios for ‘Google Cardboard’.

“But there’s an important question. How can we turn all this potential into the next big thing – the next Ebay, the next LinkedIn or the next Spotify, born here in London?

“Britain should be owning, not just inventing, the platforms of the future. We want the Mayor to keep supporting ‘clusters’ around the Capital. He has already announced his support for life-sciences. But what about other innovative sectors like Artificial Intelligence, wearable technology and CleanTech?

“The one skill that firms say they lack most is digital skills. Many firms are already taking action, using Chief Digital or Technology Officers to give digital a human face, and provide the younger people who are leading this revolution with a voice at board level.”


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