We’ve already looked at Goldsmith’s business manifesto, the detail of which revealed plans for his Business Advisory Group, appointment of a chief digital officer and utilisation of TfL to bring about super-fast broadband. However, we wanted to bring Real Business readers closer to the debate, so managed to secure some time to quiz the mayoral candidate.
As a former journalist himself, Goldsmith became an MP in 2010 and announced his plans to run for London mayor in June 2015. With the mayor having an increasingly influential role in deciding what the landscape will look like for business owners in the capital, here is his pitch to you.
(1) How important do you think it is to have a specific set of policies for business owners?
It is vital. I have a plan to deliver more homes, better transport, cleaner air and safer streets. But none of it will be possible without a strong, healthy and growing economy. So delivering for London means delivering for business.
(2) How do you segment out the issues being faced by aspiring and new entrepreneurs, and those of more established SMEs?
London boasts almost a million businesses, yet all too often they get lumped together by politicians, with no consideration of the difference between a sole trader and a global bank. Startups and more established firms of course have different needs, and we need to address them both.
Affordable office space is a huge issue for aspiring entrepreneurs, and as mayor I will require major new developments to build it in. I will also use TfL stations to provide space for retail startups. Getting connected is also essential, which is why I will work with utility providers to deliver faster and more flexible contracts.
Yet many startups do want to scale and I want to help them on that journey.
The devolution of business rates offers a key tool to do just that. As mayor I will work with boroughs to ensure they create the right incentives to attract new firms and support them to grow.
I will also undertake a review of SME red tape in London, and will work with government to break up large City Hall contracts, so smaller firms can win them.
Last, we need to recognise that the largest firms can play a valuable role in nurturing smaller companies, as we’ve seen with the Google Campus at Old Street. As mayor, I will set up a “match-making” service between large companies with space and expertise and smaller firms looking to expand.
(3) How have you gone about shaping policy for the business community?
The most important thing a candidate can do is go and talk to real businesses and listen to what they say. I’ve met with everyone from independent shops, to entrepreneurs at Tech City, to the big advocacy groups like the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). These bodies are all very clear about wanting a competent mayor with a clear plan, who can work with the government to get things done. I hope you will read my Blueprint for Business and agree that is what I will deliver.
But the businesses I meet are also very worried about some of the dangerous ideas that have been coming out of the Labour Party – whether it’s printing money to fund current spending or the £2bn black hole in Sadiq Khan’s transport plan. It’s why this election really matters.
(4) What are the main things you feel need to be done differently?
There can be no doubt that the capital has boomed under Boris Johnson. The number of businesses in London is up by a 25 per cent since 2008, and the collective excel in every field of human endeavour: film, finance, fashion, tech, publishing – you name it, London does it. But that success has come at a cost, with too many Londoners being priced out of their own city.
If we don’t act – above all, on the cost of housing – businesses won’t be able to attract the talent they need. Tackling that housing crisis is at the heart of my Action Plan for Greater London. It’s a realistic plan to deliver 50,000 homes a year by the end of my term. I’ll do it by building on the huge tracts of undeveloped public land in London, and using improved transport links to unlock new sites. That’s why it’s vital to carry on investing in transport.
(5) Why should an owner of an SME really become active in deciding the next London mayor?
London is a £600bn economy, served by one of the biggest and most complex transport networks in the world. Labour’s plans amount to a series of dangerous Jeremy Corbyn experiments on our city. Small businesses do not want to find out what happens when you take £2bn out of the transport budget at a time when we need to grow the network. Or what happens when you invite the unions into City Hall to “advise” the mayor.
I have a record of delivery, I can get on and work with the government that controls 93 percent of London’s funding, and I can hold it to account when necessary. The choice at this election really could not be clearer.
(6) How do you respond to people who say you have no experience of running your own business?
I took on The Ecologist, an almost defunct magazine, and turned it into a genuine campaigning force fighting against corruption and for consumers. My record shows that I’ve delivered for businesses, whether on local issues like securing free parking for the high streets in my patch, or nationally, like voting through the lowest corporation tax in the G20.
Incidentally, my Labour rival voted against that measure. He also nominated the most anti-business Labour leader in the party’s history. That’s the difference at this election.
(7) Can you give us some more information on the Business Advisory Group?
The creation of a Business Advisory Group has been a longstanding priority for the London business community, so I am determined to deliver it.
It will be made up of 12 people and members of the group will be nominated by the business community itself. It will include representatives of the small business community and each of the clusters London is renowned for will nominate a member – including Tech City, finance, fashion and construction.
The group will also come up with an annual list of priorities and this will then become the scorecard against which I shall judge my deputy mayor for Business.
(8) Why are clusters so important for London?
Clusters are vital to our city. There is clear evidence that if you bring a lot of talented people together in one place you get a network effect – people spark off each other, chance conversations become business ideas.
This is especially true in areas like sciences and publishing around Euston and burgeoning tech clusters in Croydon and Stratford. And of course the City of London is one of the oldest and most successful clusters in the world.
By promoting clusters – which I plan to do through the skills system – we can also seize opportunities to lead the world in developing areas of commerce, such as cleantech. That’s why I will work to deliver a cleantech hub in London. The capital’s low carbon and environment sector is already valued at over £20bn a year and employs 160,000. I am determined to go further and make London a world-beater in this field.
(9) Where do you think the real opportunities for businesses in London lie?
London businesses should be extremely confident about their future. People around the world want to invest in this fantastic city. So as well as representing them here in the UK, a key part of my role will travelling the world, banging the drum for London business.
Boris has done a brilliant job promoting London in this way through trade missions to the US, India, China and Israel. I want to build on this legacy. I will do this by increasing the budget of London & Partners and devoting more of my time to supporting its work. I will also make sure that scale-up companies are fully involved in the trade missions.
(10) Please give us your one-line pitch for Real Business readers
London is the greatest city on earth thanks to the hard work of our businesses. As mayor, I will make it my business to deliver for them.
While we’ve not yet managed to corner Goldsmith’s biggest rival, Sadiq Khan, to find out what he has on offer, we have garnered the thoughts of his business advisor to see why the relationship between business and politics is vital.
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