U-turn over London’s international offices

City Hall has announced that London’s international offices are to remain open despite Boris Johnson previously making clear his opposition to them. Today’s announcement completes a u-turn first hinted at during last year’s elections after Johnson was challenged over plans to close the offices during a hustings organised by London First.

The offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Beijing, Shanghai and Brussels were set up by Ken Livingstone to promote the capital but have been opposed by several parties on the London Assembly.

After leading business figures challenged Johnson’s commitment to scrap the offices, which he’d branded Livingstone’s “foreign embassies”, he softened his position to one of “remaining to be convinced” of their value.

Today’s announcement follows a review which found the rationale behind the offices to be “fundamentally sound” although City Hall says it will look at cutting costs.

Ian Clement, the Mayor’s advisor on government relations, says the administration are “ in discussions with organisations including the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the Corporation of London to investigate efficiency savings through measures such as sharing offices.“

Johnson has already scrapped the office in Caracas after he ended a deal with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company to subsidise cheap travel in the capital and has ended a consultancy contract in Moscow.

Comments

  1. says

    This issue is no small one as it symblises perfectly the backwardness of the Johnson administration. Johnson himself went on the Nick Ferrari programme to pledge these offics would be closed. The first point on the election addresses of Tory candidates for the London Assembly was a pledge to close down London’s representtive offices abroad. They were asuredly labelled ‘embassies’, when they are small offices, precisely to appeal to the most backward.and ignorant sentiments.

    The review of the offices now finds the resons for opening them are ‘fundamentally sound’ and that ‘the GLAs offices do play an important role in promoting Londons interests, from supporting the capitals businesses and to enhancing the image of our city around the world.’

    I deat with this on my blog on London last November as follows and the comment remains entirely valid:

    ‘Few things illustrate Boris Johnson’s administration’s failure to understand the modern world, and therefore its incompetence, more completely than the saga of London’s offices set up to represent and promote the city in India and China – the world’s most rapidly growing giant new economies. It is an issue thrown into particularly graphic light by the current world financial crisis.

    ‘During the Mayoral election campaign Boris Johnson, and Tory candidates, did everything possible to present it is as ridiculous for London to maintain offices to promote the cty abroad – Think London, the city’s inward investment agency, which is funded by the London Development Agency, also has offices in the US.

    ‘Boris Johnson and Tory candidates frequently attempted to exploit the most backward looking sentiments regarding these – often making attacks on them the first point in their campaign literature.

    ‘Thus for example Richard Tracey, Tory candidate for Merton and Wandsworth, announced in his election leaflet to electors: ‘Local Conservatives are campaigning to remove the extravagances such as Ken Livingstone’s “foreign embassies”. Matthew Laban, Tory candidate in Enfield and Haringey, in his address to constituents, attacked that ‘our money has been spent opening embassies in other countries.

    ‘Boris Johnson himself took the same position. Taking the Nick Ferarri show on Wednesday 12th December 2007, Ferarri asked: ‘And would you continue bureaus in Venezuela, Delhi, Beijing and everywhere else? Yes or no. Boris Johnson: “No.”

    ‘This pledge was strongly attacked by leaders of Londons businesses, who understood the importance of these decisive new markets overseas – for example at the Mayoral London business hustings on 26 March.

    ‘Boris Johnson, worrying about such business criticism, therefore scrapped his previous pledge to close the offices and announced to the Evening Standard the same day that he would ‘review them. Then on 14 April he announced in his business manifesto today that ‘we fully endorse the representation of London overseas (p13). In other words a complete U-turn.

    ‘That, however, as has already point out above, did not stop Tory candidates across London campaigning against Londons representative offices. There was, in short, a complete shambles.

    ‘And what is revealed by the present international financial crisis, of course? That the two economies in the world which will be most relatively strengthened by it, because they are continuing to grow most rapidly through the crisis, are China and India – the places where Boris Johnson pledged to close down London’s representation. A truly brilliant move that would have been. And of course his administration would never have opened them in the first place.

    ‘It is said that the difference between a statesman and a politician is that a statesman leads the country and a politician follows it. Ken Livingstone will be remembered as a great Mayor of London because he led the city to face key challenges that confronted it at the beginning of the 21st century – just as, in a different way, he redefined politics in London by facing the different challenges it confronted twenty years previously when he was leader of the GLC. Boris Johnson’s administration, as shown vividly by its opposition to London’s offices abroad, and its use of the most ignorant sentiments to attack them, has no understanding of the the most important challenges that face London at the beginning of the 21st century.’

    Reality has hit Johnson’s administration over the head and forced it not to close the offices – except they would never have set them up in the first place, leaving London unrepresented in the world’s most rapidly growing large markets.

    To make explicit my interest, as Director of Economic and Business Policy under Ken Livingstone I was responsible for the policy of openng London’s offices abroad.