In Conversation With…
Sadiq Khan’s Deputy Mayor for Business, Rajesh Agrawal, was the first guest to visit the new home of the Collective at the Auction Rooms in Camden.
Speaking to Simon Pitkeathley, Rajesh reflected on the Brexit landscape, perceptions of London at home and abroad, and what City Hall is doing to support SMEs in the capital.
He opened by talking about moving to London from India in 2001, starting his life in Britain with only £200. He quickly established his own foreign exchange trading business, before he was appointed as London’s Deputy Mayor for Business in the days following the Brexit vote in 2016.
He explained that his role is now to support the Mayor in protecting London’s jobs and supporting its companies. Describing his current responsibilities, he compared himself to a gardener, looking after the ecosystem and making sure the conditions were right for growth.
On Brexit, he said there were three key priorities: unfiltered business access to the single market; passporting for financial services firms; and keeping an open door to amazing talent.
He also explained how City Hall is working to promote businesses and entrepreneurs in London, and the specific initiatives being led by the Mayor. These include the Growth Hub, which puts key support systems and resources all in one place, and the work of London & Partners which is aimed at promoting the capital to international stakeholders.
Discussing Business Rates, Rajesh said that the current system is hugely unfair for companies. The capital has 16% of the England’s workspace, yet it pays 32% of total rates. He said that tackling the challenge will remain a mayoral priority, particularly as responsibilities for rates are handed over to London.
Finally, Rajesh and Simon touched on perceptions of London at home and abroad. Rajesh described the capital as being ‘front of office’ in the UK, and a gateway to commerce in this country. He said that the way London communicates with its regional partners is particularly important, and looks forward to bringing together recently-elected Mayors from across the country at a forthcoming City Hall summit.
Questions from the audience touched on the skills agenda, London’s housing challenges, the life sciences sector, and the advent of artificial intelligence and automation.
Thank you to all of those who came to the event. Details of the next in the In Conversation With… series will be available soon.
Camden Council Leader Georgia Gould and Cabinet Member for Finance, Technology and Growth Theo Blackwell joined us for our second ‘In conversation with…’ event. The discussion covered ways to build on the strengths of Camden’s business community as a unique knowledge quarter and improve the area as a place to do business, as well as the challenges and opportunities presented by business rates, Brexit and HS2.
There was interest in growing Camden to be the ‘home of innovation’ with greater fusion between its successful tech and creative sectors. A key part of this will be local business input into the STEAM curriculum that Camden Council is developing for local skills, to ensure that the right skills are being nurtured to support these sectors and that those who live in the area will be able to benefit from the jobs local businesses are creating. There was also strong interest in strengthening connections between small businesses and large international companies based in the area, and facilitating greater fusion of business growth in King’s Cross with growth in Camden Town and Euston. BIDs were mentioned as an important part of this development.
Hope was expressed that business rates devolution will enfranchise businesses in London. There was agreement that it is time to begin preparing for this to ensure that Camden’s businesses can see tangible benefits from the business rates collected locally. There was also agreement on the importance of preserving Camden’s position as a gateway to Europe post Brexit and communicating strongly to HS2 that the redevelopment of Euston is a unique opportunity for the area and London that should not be missed.
On the topic of HS2, the favourable outcome discussed was a joined up approach for each station to minimise the impact on the local community. The need for a master development partner to understand the objectives of all local communities was of paramount importance. The benefits of developments such as Kings Cross and in the future, Euston must be felt by people who visit, live and work here.
All involved hoped that this discussion would be the beginning of an ongoing conversation between local businesses and Camden Council, especially as the Council seeks to develop its plans for the area post 2025 and explores opportunities to use its procurement process and property holdings to benefit local business needs.
Camden Town Unlimited and Euston Town were pleased to host Sir Keir Starmer, the incumbent candidate for Holborn and St Pancras MP, at a forum with our members on Friday 5th May. The event featured an insightful discussion on the key policy issues affecting local businesses, including Brexit, HS2 and business rates. Given Sir Keir’s role as Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, members were particularly keen to discuss how to get the best outcomes for business during the Brexit negotiations. There was broad agreement that access to European talent pools should be preserved as a priority, giving businesses flexibility in their ability to fill skills gaps in their teams.
The redevelopment of Euston Station for HS2 was also discussed. Concerns were raised that the construction process could see local communities disrupted for a twenty year period. It was acknowledged that many important commitments have been secured from HS2 Ltd on compensation and mitigation over the past few years, and going forward it will be vital to hold HS2 Ltd to the promises it has made to the Camden and Euston areas.
On business rates, all were in agreement that there is a need for long term reform following the unprecedented rates-rise that hit London firms in April. There was particular interest in exploring options that tax businesses after they have experienced growth in profits rather than taxing business based solely on property value.
Altogether, the event was a great success and future business forums will follow to address the pressing issues affecting our businesses. So watch this space.