By Denise Marray/Gulf Times Correspondent/London
The Lord Mayor of the City of London, Dr Andrew Parmley, made his first ever visit to the Gulf last month with meetings in Qatar and Kuwait. Back in London in his magnificent Mansion House residence in the heart of the City, he spoke to Gulf Times about his experience in Qatar.
He said he was greatly impressed by the warm welcome he received in his meetings with the Minister of Finance, the governor of the Central Bank and the CEOs of the Qatar Financial Centre, Qatar National Bank and the Qatar Investment Authority. “I could not believe the level of hospitality — it was absolutely first class,” he said, adding that he had also enjoyed the visit to the new financial city, Msheireb Downtown Doha.
He noted that preparations for the 2022 World Cup are well in hand. “The stadia are nearly complete, the tunnels for the new underground train system are dug — everything is great and I think it is going to be a fantastic celebration,” he said.
He is of the view that Qatar is taking a relaxed approach to the issues around the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Qatar, he observed, tends to take a long term view with regard to its investments and is not unduly concerned by short term impacts, for example, the weaker pound.
He said the City of London is open for business and remains buoyant even against a backdrop of some uncertainty as to the Brexit terms, for example, in relation to passporting rights for the banks.
He believes that the City, where office occupancy levels stand at 97%, remains in a uniquely strong position as Europe’s leading financial centre.
“At present, there are 414,000 people working in Square Mile. In Frankfurt, the population is much lesser; so it is ludicrous to suggest moving there,” he said.
He added that according to a research by the Corporation of London, by the end of 2030, the City will be employing in the region of 575,000 people.
“Many young people working in the Square Mile (City of London) cannot afford the high London property prices. Some large companies within the Square Mile are buying flats in the former Olympic Village and then renting them to starter workers at affordable prices,” he commented.
The need for more affordable housing is a major concern in the UK and Parmley is appreciative of Gulf investments in this vital area.
“In Qatar, Kuwait and Dubai there is a great deal of interest in long term investments into this country,” he said.
The Corporation of London voted to remain the EU reflecting the wishes of the businesses within the Square Mile.
“This was not a political decision, it was simply that we represent the 16,500 businesses in the Square Mile of which 86% wanted to remain,” he said.
“We want access to the best talent in the world. London has always been a melting pot – everybody comes here to do business. About 10% of City employees in senior positions are from the European Economic Area (EEA).
“We need to do everything we can to make the people who are already here feel they are welcome.
“It would also be nice to have access to the Single Market in terms similar to those we have at present — but this is a political question and we need to see what is happening in Whitehall in this regard. Business and government are speaking to each other and we act as a go-between.
He takes a pragmatic view of the relationship between the UK and the EU.
“The truth is that just as we need access to Europe, Europe needs access to the UK. We have the largest financial centre in the world and I have no doubt it will continue to retain that position. We have the skilled workforce, infrastructure, houses, education, the cultural offer and the language.”
He sees the City as staying constantly ahead of the curve in new ideas.
“The City is a great place for incubating new ideas. Over 1,000 new companies were founded within the City of London last year. The City is attracting a lot of FinTec companies and other growth areas are seen in cyber, green and Islamic finance. We now have 20 banks in London dealing in Islamic instruments. Seventy places of Higher Education are offering courses in Islamic Finance; we are growing the workforce of the future.”
Parmley will visit the Middle East again the spring, taking in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
He said he would have loved to have had more time to enjoy the cultural side of the country. He is an international ambassador for the London Symphony Orchestra, a Fellow of the
Royal College of Organists, and an Honourable Fellow and Visiting Professor of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
He expects the 2022 World Cup will open up Qatar to the world and build new friendships.
“Qatar is a fabulous place and Doha a visually stunning city with so much open space. For a small nation the progress that has been made in such a relatively short time is quite astonishing. I think when we get to 2022 for the World Cup, we are going to see great friendships forged across the football playing world. Eyes are going to be opened to its traditions, culture and art as well,” he concluded.
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