London’s power rating must reignite devolution agenda

London is officially the most powerful city in the world.

That’s at least according to a new report from Japan’s Mori Memorial Foundation, which published its 2016 Global Power City Index this week. And, according to the Foundation’s research, London has seen off the likes of New York and Paris – ranked first for accessibility and cultural interaction, also highlighting London as a global business and tourism destination.

So, hat’s off to London then? It’s undoubtedly a feather in London’s cap, and surely a report soon to be hanging on the office wall of the Mayor, Sadiq Khan. And it’s an achievement made more impressive by the fact that London’s been the number one ranked city by the Mori Memorial Foundation for the past five years.

Sadiq Khan suggested that the report demonstrates London is the “best place in the world to do business,” even after June’s vote to leave the EU (for which Mr Khan was a resolutely in favour of Remain). Certainly, the report demonstrates continued business confidence in London and what it has to offer. But it might be premature to suggest London can retain its crown in the post-Brexit world. Philip Hammond and other ministers are already working to shore up financial services’ confidence that the City remains the place to be as the UK prepares to leave the EU. And this is turn should highlight a couple of very important points.

The first of these is the value of London to the British economy, and how the Government needs to preserve as much of that value during the Brexit process as possible. That means addressing the business concerns that have been raised, ensuring major City employers do not move their operations abroad, and seeking concessions to facilitate UK-based businesses trading in Europe without having to seek new licences or establishing subsidiaries in individual member states.

The second very important point is that, for all of London’s success, the report must reignite the push towards the Northern Powerhouse and the devolution agenda. This is already being taken forward with the election of mayors in cities like Liverpool and Manchester – along with the likes of ‘devo-Manc’ that will see health and other budgets devolved to local authorities. But equally, we need to be acutely aware of how London-centric the UK remains (an Olympic team parade in Manchester notwithstanding). And, frankly, a report naming London the number one city in the world shows it is still a favoured destination. It is stretching the argument to suggest this is the same as the strength and appeal of the UK as a whole, given the differences in local economies, transport and infrastructure.

Theresa May, despite being accused of a “wobble” in moving towards the Northern Powerhouse by George Osborne, has put a ‘Northern Powerhouse Minister’ in place in the form of Andrew Percy. The Mori Memorial Foundation report should serve as a timely reminder of the importance of devolution and developing the rest of the country to ensure the appeal of London is as true in the rest of the UK.