London’s relationship with the Gulf has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past 200 years or so. Gone is the time when Britannia ruled the waves, doing deals to protect Gulf states in exchange for the control of foreign policy. Today, our ties with this booming region are far more reciprocal, a fact that a trip to any ultra-chilled, air-conditioned expat hangout reveals. British engineers sit alongside advertising executives, internet whizz kids, doctors, teachers and journalists, all of whom have found in the Gulf a welcoming place to ply their respective trades. As the hundreds of thousands of British citizens living and working in this dynamic part of the world are testament to, the GCC region has become a magnet for global talent as its economies have diversified away from oil and gas into every sector you can think of.
Gulf economies are now growing at a comparable rate to Brazil, Russia, India and China BRIC, with the IMF predicting further strong growth averaging 4% a year over the next six years. As the glittering skyscrapers and offices rise up alongside new airports, metro systems, hospitals, universities, art galleries and stadia for the football World Cup in 2022, the opportunities for London firms are bigger than ever. GCC countries are even putting down their blueprints for future economic growth in glossy magazines, which British expertise will help to deliver. Abu Dhabi’s 2030 Vision document is a great example of this.
Rapid growth has not only brought unprecedented levels of economic prosperity, it has also led many GCC countries to make huge investments outside of their sun-kissed shores, particularly in London. And when it comes to private sector involvement in the delivery of vital infrastructure of the future I am glad to be able to say that the UK is very much open to foreign investment. That is why there is enormous scope for GCC countries to get involved with the huge shopping list that is the UK’s National Infrastructure Plan, and the British government is very much aware of this. As mayor it is my job to bang the drum for London and ensure that the capital, which is the motor of the UK economy, is seen as one of the best big cities in the world in which to invest.
Earlier this year I visited the Gulf region on precisely this mission and I am happy to report that London is held in high regard. Many Arabs I met spoke of London as their second home as well as of wanting to live here; they also want to know where the investment opportunities are. So, whether it’s the Royal Docks, Vauxhall, Nine Elms or Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, we are telling them.
Some people scoff at the willingness to court foreign cash into London and ask, a bit like John Cleese did of the Romans in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”, “What have they ever done for us?” The fact is that London has always benefitted from foreign investment and as mayor I will do all I can to ensure that remains the case. Look at the Qatari-funded Shard building, which has erupted through the capital like a shining cosmic spear. This feat of modern engineering has created thousands of jobs in London and is one of the most blindingly obvious examples of Gulf investment in the capital. The Emirates Air Line cable car, which connects Greenwich with London’s historic Royal Docks in East London, is another. Both of these projects were made possible because of vital investment from the Gulf region and mean that London now holds the twin titles of having the tallest building in Europe and the first urban cable car in the UK.
Skyscrapers and cable cars might grab the headlines, but the important point is that as London faces 21st century challenges, particularly huge projected population growth, it is in serious need of huge investment for housing and transportation projects to ensure that it remains the best big city on earth. This is why, in an ever competitive global race, we have to make London, not New York or Paris, the first choice for GCC investors who can play a key role in the continued evolution of the great city I represent, creating more jobs for Londoners and economic growth in the process.