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. This was an opportunity for us to hear some of the many success stories of our members in the region, and to tease out what challenges need to be met in order to unlock future growth. It was also a chance for us to draw attention to our report on the contribution that our industry makes to local economies across the UK, which includes case studies on Northern Ireland's achievements.
Financial and related professional services employ 31,500 people in Northern Ireland, accounting for 4.5% of regional employment and contributing £2,226 million (7.4%) of regional GVA. Northern Ireland is an important nearshore centre for operations and support services, and the region is continuing to build on its reputation for excellence in a number of key sectors including legal services, financial services and information technology. There has been significant development in Belfast over the past decade, taking advantage of availability of talent, proximity to London as Europe’s financial centre, lower costs and strong relationships with local universities and colleges.
We were fortunate to welcome a wide-cross section of the industry at our seminar, along with the leading academics and Invest NI. Our panel, chaired by Chris Cummings and comprising Alastair Hamilton (Chief Executive, Invest NI), Lisa McLaughlin (Deputy Director of Herbert Smith Freehills’ Belfast office), Mike Pogue (Course Director at Ulster Business School) and John Healy (O&T Senior Group Manager, Citi) did a fantastic job of discussing their current work and future plans, the opportunities open to the sector and how Northern Ireland should market itself.
Two key themes to emerge in the discussion were the need to unlock more talent and to respond to transport problems. While much good work is undoubtedly being done by local universities and colleges to produce graduates with the skills needed by our industry, it was noted that there are difficulties with sourcing people with the language skills necessary for Northern Ireland to compete internationally. The opportunity to improve rail travel was noted as a way of helping those from outside Belfast to access jobs in the city, though various alternative solutions to this (including flexible working, working from home and working from shared office spaces outside Belfast) were also proposed.
There was clearly a great deal of ambition in the room to build on the current successes of our industry in Northern Ireland, and this was underpinned by an appreciation of solid political support in growing the local economy. We look forward to continuing to work with our members in the region.
For more information on the role of the financial and related professional services industry across the UK, read our recent report.
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.
Friday 14 February saw a TheCityUK hat-trick, with the London launch of the Atlantic Council’s Report "The Danger of Divergence: Transatlantic Financial Reform & the G20 Agenda". Coming after the Brussels launch in the European Parliament (12 February) and the earlier launch on Capitol Hill in Washington DC (29 January) this third launch event (at Thomson-Reuters, Canary Wharf) was the culmination of a concerted effort between the Atlantic Council (as producers of the Report) and Thomson-Reuters and TheCityUK (as joint sponsors) to ensure maximum attention for a timely contribution to transatlantic debate.