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Business backs mayor Johnston

Boris Johnston, the new mayor of London, has been welcomed into office by a business community collectively keen to see him tackle the City’s weaknesses.

Skills, transport and the 2012 Olympics have been firmly put at the top of his enterprise agenda, following calls from the CBI, the employers’ organisation.

In line with the group’s wishes, Mr Johnston said before he was elected that he would help equip Londoners with the “skills they need to achieve their ambitions.”

His commitment was two-fold: firstly he hinted he wanted to improve the calibre of graduates entering the workforce, for their own futures as well as their employers’.

Secondly, he vowed to promote “enterprise and entrepreneurialism”, particularly to those excluded from it the most; women, the disadvantaged and black or minority ethnic individuals.

On transport, he said the City’s infrastructure must set “the right conditions for entrepreneurial success” – meaning it should be efficient, affordable and provide value for money.

On the Olympics, he said it must be used to “drive employment opportunities” and regenerate east London. After becoming mayor, he also said he would introduce a system of financial controls given its spiralling cost.

Partly to this end, lobby group London First says it is willing to help the new mayor choose a team of advisors from the City who would be suitable to run the mayoral agencies.

Political observers say careful choices about these appointments are vital: the former mayor was accused of cronyism, and aside from being editor of The Spectator, Johnston’s management experience is limited.

“Boris has been elected with a mandate for change,” said Baroness Jo Valentine, the chief executive of London First.

“There are several transport issues – preventing gridlock in the capital; securing long term investment in the Tube; and ensuring Crossrail is built to specification, on-time and on-budget.”

“Plus there’s no doubt it’s time for a radical shake-up of the London Development Agency. Again, he can rely on the commitment and support from our business members in tackling each of these as well as any as yet unforeseen challenges over the horizon.”

Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, said Mr Johnston will bring “vigour and enthusiasm” to the London mayoralty, but that alone won’t be enough.

“It is important the mayor continues to protect and promote the city’s strengths, as well as address its weaknesses, particularly skills, infrastructure and transport,” he said.

The group called for “more detailed proposals” from Mr Johnston, adding that the “right advisors” must be selected, a process they believe should involve London’s firms.

Meanwhile, London First pointed out that Mr Johnston has taken office at a time of challenges, not least because he will be expected to steer the capital through the “difficult global economic situation.”

Similarly Colin Stanbridge, of the London Chamber of Commerce, told the Financial Times that the capital needed decisive leadership to fend off international rivals, such as Mumbai, Shanghai and Dubai.

Positively, London’s global status has already been singled out by Mr Johnston as a priority, though any detail on his international policies is currently lacking.

“We must never forget,” he said on the campaign trail, “that most [large businesses] can just as easily conduct their operations from New York, Shanghai, Dubai or Mumbai - and we must keep striving to be the best.”

Yet the-then Tory candidate was careful not to exclude smaller and one-person businesses from his enterprise vision.

“Our famous financial services sector employs hundreds of thousands of the brightest and best minds from around the world, themselves drawn here by London's dynamism and prosperity,” Mr Johnston said.

“But this success is not just powered from the glittering citadels in the square mile and the large multinationals based there; it has also been driven by London's growing creative industries, its small and medium enterprises and sole traders.”

Since his comments, mayor Johnston has agreed to meet the Federation of Small Businesses once a month to “find out the real issues affecting people running their businesses,” Startups reported.

And although the Green Party’s mayoral candidate Siân Berry claims Mr Johnston was second to her as the FSB’s preferred candidate, he has pledged to scrap the £25 congestion charge for commuting business owners, a move that all business groups would welcome.

Reprinted from Contractor UK