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OPINION - MAKING A GOOD BUSINESS CASE

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Let's be honest, business still has some lessons for councils - lessons no longer to be learned just from the famil...
Let's be honest, business still has some lessons for councils - lessons no longer to be learned just from the family-owned factory down the road, or the office complex out on the bypass.

Anyone who lifts the lid off a systems-provider in Bangalore, say, or peers inside a pharmaceuticals plant in Brazil will know what I mean: the world is filling with vibrant firms, untrammelled by bureaucracy and staffed by high performers eager to be

the best.

Once, we in the UK felt that the US, Japan or Germany had things to teach us. Now the historical corporate powers can learn from places many of us have little direct knowledge of at all.

Regional trade, for example, between China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea and other Asian markets is growing at two to three times the global rate. In many sectors it is not all about cost advantage. It's also about expertise, innovation and an eagerness to make the future theirs.

While nothing excites a council more than the arrival of a foreign delegation looking to invest in a big project, I believe the real lesson from the Lyons Inquiry was the debate about how to engage with business at both a local and a global level.

The City of London Corporation is fortunate:

we have kept the right to raise a business rate and our links with business

are direct, constant and at every level.

Business's involvement certainly keeps you on your toes - 7.30am phone calls and pressure for a 'final decision, today, please' are commonplace. Businesses that live or die on customer service and responsiveness are not thrilled if their local council can't deliver.

The upside of this engagement is that a council is constantly exposed to new ideas, new thinking and new challenges.

Of course the City of London is different from most councils - in fact, we are not strictly a council at all - so the lessons of our experience may not carry over to all other LGC readers. We may have offices in China, India and Brussels, but with only 9,000 residents and a working population of 340,000 who commute in and out of the Square Mile every day, the City of London has a somewhat unique mandate.

One important lesson we can share is that of long-term relations built on in-depth knowledge. City of London officers, both junior and senior, have an ongoing programme of individual meetings with City firms.

We sit down and exchange ideas and news. Are there local concerns about the operating costs of running a business in the City? Are there broader concerns about regulation and incentives that require lobbying and high-level attention?

The information we take away directs our work. Themes in our widely circulated research reports are driven by industry thinking - and range from the cost of transport delays to the skill requirements of City employers. We independently poll City executives about issues facing the Square Mile and business priorities become our priorities, with proper regard for residents and visitors.

Throughout the UK the global market in goods, services, skills and resources is being felt on the high street and in the factory - but also in town and city halls. In this new global village, businesses make it their business to keep up to global scratch - and we in local government can only benefit by staying close.

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