In 2020, my team at Oliver Wyman joined the City of London Corporation in publishing London Recharged: A report detailing recommendations to enhance the capital’s long-term competitiveness in light of global issues such as the climate crisis, COVID-19, and digitalisation. I’m pleased to now share how those recommendations have manifested into priority actions for the City Corporation in The Square Mile: Future City.
I’ve seen so many good intentions go to waste when organisations focus so much on planning and preparing that they never get around to doing. But with the actions contained in this new report, I believe that the Square Mile will experience real change over the next few years.
In line with the six ‘big moves’ the City Corporation is undertaking, we can expect to see more high-potential businesses start and grow there and become part of a world-class, innovative ecosystem open to everyone from all walks of life. The Square Mile will be somewhere people go for entertainment and leisure as well as work. I for one can’t wait to experience some of the events already being planned – such as exploring the ‘unseen City’ and new creative experiences – all in an outstanding environment.
Building the future of London
The way forward for London and other cities is to be clear on what enables their competitive advantage, and then enhance these advantages further. London is London because of its people, diversity, and openness. These have created huge strengths for the city in the form of hubs for financial services, professional services, and technology. However, technology developments are accelerating and behaviours are shifting faster than governments, networks, infrastructures, and humans can adapt to them.
London must proactively evolve to maintain its position as the location of choice for businesses and visitors. In practice, this means tackling everything from the difficulties of a daily commute, to the proficiency of last-mile delivery, to the adequacy of telecommunications, and the level of pollution, traffic noise, and congestion. It will require huge investments to modernize infrastructure that is sometimes over a century old.
It might be tempting to try and plan everything out in advance, but with the world and technology changing so rapidly, London would risk following the fate of Betamax or Minidisks and becoming irrelevant. Instead, we must focus on building the partnerships, standards, and infrastructure that will provide the basis for a strong community: Cities thrive when they are built and designed for everyone. To do all of this, we need our city to be more innovative, more sustainable, and more inclusive than ever before.
- Sustainability: As firms respond to the climate crisis and set their carbon reduction goals, they will want to locate in places that will help them achieve these goals. This means that if the Square Mile can, for example, provide green infrastructure like a smart grid and renewable energy options, the area becomes more attractive to new businesses and better at retaining existing ones.
- Inclusion: Businesses need talented people with diverse perspectives in order to thrive. Through the socio-economic diversity taskforce the City Corporation is leading and Oliver Wyman is involved with, we are forensically, yet very humanly, investigating how the Square Mile can be more inclusive to under-represented groups. We aim to make the Square Mile a place that appeals to everybody, makes everyone feel welcome, and where talented people want to work.
- Innovation: We’re on the cusp of a material boom of innovation around the world. Firms need to adapt quickly to current global issues and react to any unknowns the future may bring. To be this agile, they need to be in an environment that facilitates innovation, for example one that places them close to new ideas or provides easy access to things like new technologies, mentors, and digital sandboxes. Insights should be shared, accessible through common infrastructure, and governed by agreed principles, so that all players can contribute to, access, and build on them.
The role of businesses
This plan – the recommendations and the benefits – goes far beyond only helping a few businesses in a single square mile in a single city, because London cannot and will not exist in isolation from the rest of the country. There can be no turbo-charging London without levelling up other cities and the whole of the UK. Under this new vision London also will take more of a role in helping other UK cities and regions bring in wealth and talent in their own rights, by using its position to innovate, test, and disseminate new ideas and approaches.
Businesses must support the City Corporation’s plans and act as ambassadors for our ambition to become the world’s most innovative and inclusive business ecosystem. This includes businesses like Oliver Wyman, which aren’t even located in the Square Mile. By helping this core part of our city thrive, London and the rest of the UK can thrive, too.