Speech given by Luisa Porritt to London Chamber of Commerce

Full text of the speech given by Luisa Porritt, Liberal Democrat candidate for the Mayor of London, 2021, to the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry
16th February 2021

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Good afternoon, everyone.

It’s a pleasure to be with LCCI and its members today.

Business is in my blood. My mother ran a UK radio station, and I grew up hearing her talk about the need to shape the service to grow their customer base, dealing with regulators, managing the company finances, and looking after her staff’s wellbeing.

One of my first roles after university was an internship with the British Chambers of Commerce, because I know small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and the job creators.

It’s no surprise therefore that once I became politically active, I turned to the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats are Britain’s pro-business party, and I will be a pro-business Mayor.

I want to start by thanking businesses for adapting so quickly and imaginatively to the challenges presented by the pandemic.

Even at the local level, in the area I represent as a councillor, I’ve seen the way businesses have adapted creatively to restrictions.

I know that’s not been easy. It’s costly to adapt, especially when demand is unpredictable. Many businesses have had to make tough decisions simply in order to survive.

Despite these pressures, businesses have proven they care about their role in society. They’ve stepped up to keep people safe, and are showing that true Londoner spirit by supporting their local communities when they need it most.

Here in my area, I asked local restaurants to help provide meals for families living in temporary accommodation when the Government refused to provide free school meals – none of them hesitated, even when their margins were squeezed.

Businesses have seen the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint long term, now we’re all getting used to homeworking. And they’ve been doing what they can to support employees with their mental health during this difficult time.

London’s businesses are helping us through the challenges we face, and will help lead us towards a more prosperous future.

They make a huge contribution to our nation’s economy, and I agree with Richard, when he previously said London’s businesses have a responsibility to the country and the world to be successful.

Through their success, we can rebuild, improve on what we’ve got wrong in the past, and create resilience ahead of the next crisis.

The way Londoners have responded to the past year of difficulty is a testament to what our capital is capable of when communities, companies, councils and charities work together.

That’s the potential I want to build on as Mayor.

The private, public and voluntary sectors don’t exist in isolation. We can recover and take London forward together, creating hope and opportunity for everyone.

There’s so much our city needs – both to recover today and to rebuild for tomorrow.

First, the Government must extend the business rates holiday for another year. Businesses’ futures depend on it.

Furlough should be extended through to the summer, and urgent financial support is needed for those who’ve been Excluded so far. Some of those people have not been paid in a year. London’s self-employed are a near million-strong army of innovators and taxpayers. We must help them.

 

The vaccine rollout means there is hope on the horizon. Finally, we can start imagining the recovery. And the key to that is the 600 local economies that make up our capital.

Outside central London, our high streets are home to half of London’s jobs. They’ve struggled in recent years, but the homeworking trend is an opportunity for their revival.

With more people spending time and money in their local area, there’s new demand for a wider mix of services on high streets. We need to embrace this opportunity, and reinvent the high street – so it’s an attractive place to work, eat, drink and shop.

Instead of just being a place for retail, many communities will want co-working spaces and childcare services to meet the needs of their flexible working population, and new places to eat and drink, so people can enjoy their leisure time after work.

We can move away from the old fashioned, retail-led model of historic high streets.

As Mayor, I will lead a strategic plan to support every local borough to reinvent their high street in a way that works for their community – providing support with funding applications, sharing best practice and offering technical support.

Lib Dem-run Sutton Council are ahead of the game on this, and I hope they can serve as a model for other boroughs to follow. Our recovery depends on this vision being realised.

Jobs are a big worry for Londoners at the moment, but especially for young people. The unemployment rate is rising fastest among those aged 16 to 24. If we don’t act now, we risk a lost generation.

So it’s saddening that apprenticeships are declining in our capital. Just 8% of London businesses employ an apprentice.

And no wonder, when you hear about all the confusion and mess that surrounds the Government’s schemes, from the Apprenticeship Levy to Kickstart.

London should have more devolved responsibility in this area. But in the meantime, there’s more we can do with the Mayor’s new powers over Adult Education.

I want to launch a London Apprenticeships Hub. A centre for knowledge about apprenticeships in the capital so young people can find opportunities easily, and a programme to help businesses maximise take up of the Apprenticeship Levy and lead the creation of new skills-relevant courses – in sectors like hospitality.

To keep young people coming to work in our capital, we need to address the housing crisis. There’s no strong recovery without tackling this fundamental issue.

Homes should be as available as running water.

But Sadiq Khan is failing to deliver enough affordable homes – he’s started less than half of his target.

This is partly due to lack of imagination. We have empty homes and vacant space available in our city, which we’re failing to think about creatively.

And with homeworking here to stay, we’ll be left with more empty office space than ever.

That’s why I want to put Homes in the Heart of the City. With a generational opportunity of this scale, we can challenge ourselves to convert these spaces into quality, affordable, zero-carbon homes. If they can do it in Rotterdam, we can do it here too.

Our housing crisis won’t be fixed with more of the same. We need big ideas and urgent action.

Together, we can ensure London becomes an affordable place to live.

Speaking of opportunities and doing things differently, it’s vital we seize this chance to drive a green recovery.

As a former financial journalist, I know we don’t have to choose between tackling the climate emergency and economic growth – together, we can have a green recovery.

Cities are uniquely well placed to rise to this challenge. Building and transportation are two of the biggest polluters, and we have plenty of both.

A green recovery means training people to do retrofits of buildings, creating jobs while tackling the climate emergency, and making homes more energy efficient in the process.

Our Green Roofs plan is part of this vision – it will incentivise retrofitting, and the introduction of new standards on large developments to ensure both commercial and residential properties contribute to our urban greenery and help clean up our air.

While our public transport network is the envy of the world, we must recognise the funding crisis facing TfL due to the pandemic.

The way the Government has treated our capital during this unprecedented situation is totally irresponsible – TfL deserves support to keep going through the crisis.

But to secure its financial future, we need big ideas and urgent action – which is why I want to put London forward to trial a road pricing system. It’s a smart, fair and green solution.

We also need to do more to promote active travel, with safe and efficient routes for cycling and walking across the capital.

Finally, we can’t talk about challenges facing London without acknowledging the self-inflicted economic disaster that is Brexit.

The Government’s paper-thin deal doesn’t meet the needs of our services sector-based economy, and the red tape businesses now have to deal with is another cost they don’t need.

The impact on finance, music and fashion alone show we should be in the Single Market and the Customs Union.

Without a deal on equivalence for our financial services sector, we will continue losing out to Amsterdam and other capitals.

Our capital and our country’s recovery depends on it, because the City contributes more than 10% of the Treasury’s annual tax take.

Without visa-free touring for our musicians and artists, they can’t keep sharing their amazing work across Europe.

Without reducing barriers to trade, instead of putting them up, designers can’t easily make and sell their products, which depend on integrated supply chains and no burdensome import and export costs.

As a former MEP for London, I know the value of our relationship with the EU, and that’s why I’ll always put all my energy into fighting for a strong relationship with the EU for London.

I grew up in this city, and was fortunate enough to enjoy many of the amazing things it has to offer.

But I’ve always been acutely aware that many don’t have that opportunity.

We need to address the deep-rooted inequalities in our city, and at the same time make sure young people can still thrive here in future.

I graduated amid the last recession – it was an unpleasant experience, having to jump from one internship and short term contract to another, but I was lucky to already live in London and have the cushion of my parents roof over my head.

I’ve lived in overpriced rented flats with poor landlords, and I don’t want that to be the accepted way to spend your twenties.

We need to make sure the next generation of young people can live in decent homes and access all the opportunities London has to offer – the success of your businesses depends on that.

Under the right leadership, I believe that together we can grow our way out of the current crisis. Ensuring London:

  • invests in a locally-led economic recovery

  • is an affordable place to live

  • has a Green recovery

  • and secures a strong relationship with the EU

Key to making this happen is working together, with businesses, charities and all levels of Government across our city.

With a clear eye on the future and a plan for it, together we can recover and take London forward.

I know our city can emerge from this, stronger than ever.

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