The capital’s institutions need to promote London as having a future, as
well as history, as it approaches the next millennium.
Janet Izatt reports
After years of trading on its reputation for history, London’s image is
being dusted off as it tries to woo potential inward investment away
from its rivals and boost its flagging tourist trade.
London’s makeover includes an pounds 8 million advertising campaign, the
London Tourist Board’s much maligned new logo, its own government
minister, the prospect of a London-wide local authority and an elected
Mayor (should Labour come to power) and possibly the world’s largest
The renewed attention to London’s looks is not before time. Tourist
numbers dropped dramatically during the early 1990s and the Gulf War and
growth in visitor numbers since the recession has been sluggish, falling
well below worldwide growth rates. Within Europe, London is competing
with the growing popularity of Barcelona and Paris as holiday
destinations. Worldwide, Australia is proving more of an enticement to
Meanwhile, on the inward investment front, London is having to work hard
to ensure that it retains its position as the heart of the financial
world against a background of renewed IRA terrorist attacks and lower
government subsidies to entice inward investment than other European
And it is working hard. The old adage that people unite against the
common enemy - in this case international and domestic competition -
rings true for London. It has spurred the business community, tourist
authorities and borough councils into working closely together to
present a cohesive image of London. At stake is the country’s economic
The Square Mile alone contributes more than pounds 20 billion pounds to
the national economy, matching the economic contribution from the
manufacturing sector, and is home to 540 banks from 72 countries. There
are more US banks in the City of London than in New York, more Japanese
banks than in Tokyo and more than half of the world’s ship broking deals
are handled from here.
The figures paint a success story but the Corporation of London, the
Square Mile’s local authority, doesn’t take its health for granted.
IRA bomb attacks on the Baltic Exchange, Bishopsgate, Canary Wharf and
the Aldwych since 1992 have raised fears that international companies
could steer clear of London because of security issues and the cost of
soaring insurance premiums.
Also of concern for the Corporation has been Labour’s long-term policy
to abolish the body should it come to power - a policy framed in the
bitter aftermath of the Conservative Government’s decision to axe the
Greater London Council in 1985.
Furthermore, the collapse of Barings Bank sent fear through the City
that its standing, and that of the financial regulators, in the
international banking community would be damaged. Another threat is that
of the Docklands wooing City-based financial institutions eastwards
with attractive property packages.
On the whole, however, the Corporation has overcome these obstacles.
Despite the bombings, London has retained its position as the world’s
leading financial centre, largely due to its security measures.
The Corporation swung into action after the first bomb attack in 1993
with its pounds 5 million ‘ring of steel’ policy. The package of
security measures resulted in an increased police presence on the
streets, random vehicle searches and one-way only routes into the City,
which were screened by security cameras, to help detect suspect
It was made a permanent feature of the City in June 1994 after being in
place for a year, a move that was well publicised by the Corporation to
build confidence among financial institutions, both domestically and
abroad, that it was taking security issues seriously. When the IRA
attacks resumed earlier this year, the Corporation lost no time in
publicising the fact that its ring of steel had been maintained
throughout the ceasefire.
London did not lose any major financial institutions as a result of the
bombings but ‘won’ the Deutsche Bank, which announced in October 1994
that it was relocating to London.
The greatest sign of the Corporation’s success must undoubtedly be the
Labour Party’s decision earlier this month to drop its plans to abolish
it in recognition of its contribution to attracting inward investment
and its co-ordination of the City’s defence against IRA attacks.
For the Corporation of London’s director of communications Tony Halmos,
Labour’s change in policy was tacit recognition that his department was
getting the message across that the Corporation played a vital part in
improving the health of the nation.
Indeed, research conducted by MORI for the Corporation shows that the
number of MPs who are very familiar with the work of the Corporation
increased between 1992 and 1995 from 42 per cent to 54 per cent. The
same research shows that the number of City business leaders who
believes the Corporation promotes the City of London overseas well, or
very well, increased during the same period from 78 per cent to 86 per
Further proof of the raised awareness of the Corporation is in the
cuttings: in 1981 there were no references to the Corporation in the
national press, in 1985 it had risen to 23, then 107 in 1990 and 359 in
The Corporation still has three major issues to resolve if it is to keep
financial institutions in London and attract further investment. It
needs to establish the right physical infrastructure, telecommunications
and regulation of financial services both within the UK and from
On these matters the Corporation is working hand in hand with a number
of other bodies, notably London First Centre, the inward investment
agency which is supported by Invest in Britain Bureau, the Corporation
of London, London Docklands Development Corporation, Westminster City
Council and the business community through its parent body London First.
The telecommunications front is looking fairly healthy as the UK offers
the most competitive telecoms environment in Europe. However, the
Corporation and London First Centre have been less successful in driving
through improvements to public transport, which is crucial for the
City’s reputation as 92 per cent of the 250,000 people employed in the
City travel to work by public transport.
The Government’s decision to ditch the CrossRail scheme, which would
link the City to Paddington, was a major blow to the Corporation and
London First Centre. ‘It signified that we are not investing in our
infrastructure,’ said Robert Gordon Clark, director of communications
for London First Centre and London First. However, London First Centre,
whose remit covers all of London, has notched up 38 success stories
since it was set up in 1994. Among these, it attracted electronics giant
Samsung to set up its European headquarters at Brentford and Delta
Airways to Park Royal. It is currently handling ‘100 live projects with
the potential to create 1,000 jobs’.
One of London First Centre’s key strengths has been its role in
brokering partnerships between the business community, local and central
government and the London Tourist Board.
‘We need to maximise opportunities for London because we are competing
with other cities such as Sydney which has the Olympic games to help it
promote itself,’ says Gordon Clark. ‘We are also competing with other
parts of the UK, such as Wales, which is running ads to attract
companies to relocate from London to Wales.’
The three-way contest to host the millennium exhibition, which saw
London elbowing out rivals Manchester and Birmingham to emerge as the
preferred choice with its Greenwich site, is further evidence of the
collective muscle of the various bodies.
If the millennium exhibition and the BA ferris wheel get the green
light, London may well succeed in attaining the all important ‘stand-
out’ quality on a cluttered international catwalk. All that’s missing,
it could be argued, is a London-wide local authority to ensure London
gets the attention it deserves.
LOOKING UP: MILLENnIUM VIEWS
London Tourist Board isn’t the only organisation to court controversy in
its attempts to revitalise London’s flagging tourism and investment
markets. British Airways’ plans to back a pounds 9 million, 500-foot
branded ferris wheel on the SouthBank with pounds 600,000 of start-up
capital as part of the millennium celebrations has also been greeted
with howls of protest (as well as a rival bid for publicity from Virgin
who propose to float visitors over the millennium site in Greenwich in a
hot air balloon).
Fending off accusations that its plans will result in blot on the
landscape, British Airways insists the enormous ferris wheel - the
largest in the world - will give London a landmark in the same way that
Paris has the Eiffel Tower, itself a relic from a previous exhibition.
‘We wanted to do something to mark the millennium. We had a whole load
of unsolicited proposals, of which this was one, and it just grabbed our
attention as bold, different and fun,’ says a BA spokesman. Of course
there is also the business rationale: ‘It does link in with our
business. British Airways is the biggest in-bound tour operator and we
bring five million tourists to Britain every year. That provides us
with opportunities to cross-promote within the United Kingdom and
British Airways says the wheel also makes sound economic sense, as an
estimated two million visitors will pay pounds 5 a ticket for the 20-
minute ride which will offer them unrivalled views across the capital.
BA is currently look at a range of options including using the same
fabric covering seats on BA’s planes on the ferris wheel seats, and
dressing attendants in BA livery. London Tourist Board has given BA its
blessing, just as British Airways has promised to use LTB’s new logo -
no surprise there. BA’s chairman Sir Colin Marshall is chairman of
London First which, in turn, is a member of London Focus, the LTB-led
group which approved the logo.