A Welcome to 2023 from Ruth Duston OBE, OC -

We look forward to 2023

When we welcomed in 2022, I don’t think many of us would have foreseen that this year the nation would experience quite so much turmoil, especially on the back of a torrid couple of years with the fallout from Brexit and the COVID pandemic. Alongside the great high of the Platinum Jubilee in the summer and the sad low of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, 2022 has turned out to be a year of records, and not all good!

Fuel prices peaked at 48% above the previous year in July, food prices rose at their fastest rate in 42 years, surging energy bills sent the UK’s annual inflation rate to a 41-year-high of 11.1%, and around 2 million working days were lost due to industrial action (although hugely damaging, this, thankfully is not a record – it pales in comparison with the postwar high in September 1979 when more than 12m days were lost).

On top of all of that we also experienced; our first major football tournament win in more than 50 years when the Lionesses roared to European glory, the UK unbelievably came 2nd in Eurovision, we awaited looming recession, witnessed two monarchs, three prime ministers, four chancellors, five education secretaries, six fiscal events, more than 30 exits from the cabinet, and, Labour winning control of Westminster Council for the first time in 58 years.

Quite a year. Perhaps unprecedented? Never to be repeated? Who knows. What I do know however, is that we are likely to experience another year of challenge and change, but crucially, opportunity too.

Continuing the numbers theme, at the dawn of another new year, I have drawn together my top 5 priorities for 2023 – new year resolutions that could help us seize the opportunities ahead and mitigate the challenges we are undoubtedly facing.

  • Priority One: London needs investment to help drive the recovery. Across the Primera portfolio, I am proud to be supporting the Opportunity London campaign to shine a light on this priority issue, especially for the Central Activities Zone. Although it covers just 2% of the capital it is strategically important to London and indeed the wider UK. In 2020 the CAZ accounted for over 40% of London’s economic output and over 9% of national output. The CAZ has exceptionally high levels of productivity. GVA per worker stood at £110k in 2020, double the figure for the rest of the UK. Despite the challenges of recent years, and even with the anticipated slowdown in the coming months, London is a fundamentally strong market with plenty of innovative businesses looking for finance, and lots of people looking to finance them. However, we must not rest on our laurels. As a city we must seek to attract new businesses, new sectors and understand what businesses and employees are looking for in a truly global city. The ESG agenda is crucial to securing a strong investment pipeline.
  • Priority Two: Transport infrastructure is the fuel that keeps our city moving – just look at the positive impact the new Elizabeth Line is already having. The £20bn line opened in May and has clocked up more than 70m journeys to date – 20m more than expected and boosting Transport for London’s fares revenue by an additional £30m. Good infrastructure attracts businesses and workers, and this is vital for London’s continued growth and evolution. We need to see more infrastructure projects being delivered, facilitated through progressive new funding models. The Future Victoria project, bringing together the public and private sectors, is a good example of this collaborative approach and I am pleased to see momentum building once again which will see a new and exciting vision for Victoria delivered. Of course, all of this will be a hopeless endeavour if we cannot resolve the crippling train disputes. All parties must redouble efforts in the new year to find a solution – the nation is depending on it, especially London!
  • Priority Three: The capital must invest in transformational projects, such as the one seen at Strand Aldwych. These projects have the ability to inspire and delight and encourage greater interaction with our public spaces. The Strand Aldwych scheme was talked about for more than 30 years but many thought it would never happen. To see how collective will has moved into collective action, driven by the efforts of the BID working in partnership with Westminster Council and other key stakeholders, is incredibly rewarding and demonstrates the powerful force for good that BIDs can be. Over the last decade the BID has invested around £1m, being the catalyst for the significant capital investment made by Westminster City Council. We have created a new public space for London, stewarded in partnership, funded through collaboration – bolstering the area’s cultural, thinking, and learning credentials, extending our ability to bring new ideas to life, and creating a new platform for creative expression without borders.  More of this sort of thinking and action is needed to create world class spaces and destinations across the capital, to enhance our public spaces and attract more visitors, workers and residents, helping them engage more meaningfully with the city around them.
  • Priority Four: We need to acknowledge the important role the City of London plays in the UK and support it. The recent package of Government announcements, now dubbed the “Edinburgh Reforms”, had been trailed as the new ‘Big Bang’ raising expectations of a big deregulatory push. Although the wholesale dismantling of regulations did not transpire when announced in early December, the changes, described by the Government as being designed to ‘help turbocharge growth and deliver a smarter and home-grown regulatory framework for the UK’, have been widely welcomed. The reforms include a review of securitisation and short-selling rules, overhauling prospectuses issued by companies when they list, and a plan for repealing and reforming rules that were introduced when Britain was in the EU. These changes, alongside an evolving City of London – one that is more accessible, more inclusive, with a more rounded 24/7 offer – put the Square Mile in a strong position as the new year approaches. This focus on enhancing the future strength of the City is vital, not only for the businesses located and invested there, but for the wider UK economy and our global competitiveness.
  • Priority Five: Last but certainly not least, London must raise its game and be the best possible version of itself. As a city we can’t be afraid to be bold and do things differently: The City of London’s Destination City proposition is exactly the right thing to be doing – responding to changing trends, targeting new demographics, and following insights and data. Adapt or die should be our mantra.  Business Improvement Districts are evolving and adapting too to the changing landscape, and perhaps ‘Improvement Districts’ will be a more apt descriptor in the future, as they take a more holistic approach to serving their levy payers, recognising how the capital is diversifying and the widening commercial opportunities.

Linking each of these five priorities is the golden thread of partnership. Partnership in terms of investment: whether that means new funding models to secure major investment in infrastructure, or investment in our public spaces.

Partnership in terms of delivering better ideas, new collaborations and driving innovation.

And, partnership in terms of how we change the narrative around central London. The case for supporting areas outside of London who are suffering from poor economic outcomes is a strong one.  However, this narrative is often accompanied by a framing against London. The truth is that Londoners are struggling too, with the city seeing the highest poverty rate in the country. I believe that no matter where you live or who you are, you should have access to economic opportunity.

Let’s hope 2023 is the year of opportunity for us all. On behalf of the Primera portfolio of BIDs (or should I say Improvement Districts) and business partnerships, I wish colleagues and friends a happy, healthy, and successful new year.