In the main conference hall of Manchester Central, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls MP burnished his party’s commitment to fiscal probity, re-stating commitments to balanced budgets with tax rises and spending restraint. Labour leader Ed Miliband MP also pledged to grow the number of high-quality apprenticeships for young people, re-pledged to break up big UK banks and promised to transform the NHS.
But judging from the conversations in corridors, at fringe meetings and on the pavement outside the Midland Hotel, delegates were equally if not more concerned with other issues. Activists and MPs, weary after weeks of campaigning in Scotland, found themselves discussing devolution for English regions. Newspaper headlines focused on air strikes in Iraq and Syria. Fringe meetings on European reform won large crowds.
With devolved and European policy garnering as much if not more attention than traditionally ‘domestic’ domains, what does this mean for policymakers? And how does it related to the jobs and growth agenda?
TheCityUK’s fringe, “Finance the future: business done differently under a Labour Government” was an opportunity for some of the opposition party’s leading thinkers on financial services to set out answers to some of these questions. Cathy Jamieson MP, Shadow Economic Secretary, told the crowd that the intervention of financial services firms had been important in informing voters of the implications of the Scottish referendum. Lord Stevenson compared the UK to other European countries (and America), noting its exceptionalism in not having a government agency devoted to small business.
Group Chief Executive of the London Stock Exchange, Xavier Rolet, emphasised the centrality of growth and innovation to the preservation of the European social model. He emphasised the importance of equity finance to innovative companies, and called for the tax bias toward debt to be redressed.
TheCityUK Chief Executive Chris Cummings told the audience that it was important that the UK jobs created now are long term. Within financial services, Chris also demonstrated how there has been substantial change since the financial crisis, and that the industry remained a larger net exporter than all others combined. The UK’s financial centre is an asset both to the UK, and to Europe, and compromising the UK’s membership of the EU would lead to massive uncertainty.
During the question and answer session, panellists emphasised that financial services must continue regaining the trust and confidence of the public through fulfilling its part of the social contract. Just as the sector has a fiduciary duty to shareholders, there are also the obligations that the financial sector plays its appropriate role with other stakeholders, be they taxpayers, SMEs or retail depositors.
It’s always interesting to get away from the UK debates engaging TheCityUK, and to go to another EU member-state for an alternative view. TradeWonk’s annual visit to Ireland was a welcome opportunity to do so and to be exposed to Irish viewpoints for much of August.
This week we were in Belfast, kindly hosted by Citi, for a seminar to discuss the role of financial and related professional services in Northern Ireland.
A TheCityUK delegation, led by Mark Garvin of JP Morgan, visited Rome for a day of meetings on 23 July to prepare for the establishment of an Anglo-Italian financial services dialogue during the Italian Presidency of the EU.
Earlier this year I was invited by the British Chamber of Commerce of Morocco to give a speech on ‘Developments in Islamic Finance in the UK’ at a conference on “Islamic Finance in Morocco”. The conference happily coincided with the visit last week of the Rt Hon Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman Fiona Woolf, so I was able to join her delegation for a very full and productive programme in Casablanca and Rabat. As well as a 20 strong business delegation, the Lord Mayor was supported by the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Morocco, Lord Sharman.
Given that today sees the most important European Elections ever, there could be not better time to talk about the UK’s place in the EU. Let me encourage you all to vote – as your conscience determines – but do make time.
As the leading cross-sectoral body for our industry, TheCityUK has been setting out the view of our sector on the EU-UK relationship. It is our role at TheCityUK to make sure that the practitioner voice on the EU debate is heard loudly and clearly, in the UK, the EU and in the international arena.
We are at a moment of transition between the old and new European Parliamentary and Commission mandates. The current mandate has focused on reform and stability following the financial crisis but in the next 5 years, the task will be to create an ‘agenda for competitiveness’ that enables the EU to deliver the jobs and growth we need. It is important that financial and related professional services engage in a dialogue with policymakers about our industry’s role in delivering solutions to the challenges facing Europe that directly meet that competitiveness challenge.
Last night I shared a platform with the Foreign Secretary at the FCO Leadership Conference reception. In my speech I set out why what the FCO does is so valuable and why it makes a difference to the UK’s business interests.
On Monday we launched our most significant round of EU research yet, to a 200 strong audience at Clifford Chance. Speakers were of the very highest calibre across the industry and Government. Sir Win Bischoff opened proceedings by saying that the EU debate is the most important one our country faces at the moment. He revealed that all alternatives to EU membership considered in the reports being launched would be costly for business and finance, risking damage to the UK through uncertainty, reduced market access and loss of influence.
Legislators reached a deal on the Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM), the second phase of the Banking Union, after sixteen hours of negotiation that began on the afternoon of Wednesday 19 March and ended with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble being roused shortly before dawn to give his blessing to the agreement. Subject to final approval, the text will now be put to a plenary vote on 15 April.