London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Hurrah! The Olympics are here. I have just watched the opening ceremony. The Beijing Opening Ceremony was absolutely astonishing, but London was a masterpiece, not a ceremony.
I understand that four billion people watched the London Opening Ceremony – a celebration of British history, social, cultural and industrial achievements. The most inclusive element of an exceptionally inclusive celebration was lighting of the cauldron. The cauldron consists of 204 petals, one for each competing nation or territory, one petal carried into the stadium by each team, which rose on stalks to form a single burning “flower”. True to the London Games’ motto of ‘Inspire a Generation’, the cauldron was lit by seven young unknown athletes chosen by British Olympic champions. The theme was full of symbolism with an underscore of joint effort, fellowship and using history to look forward. There is much from this symbolism for us all to think about in business.
We are all very excited here in London. I took Thursday afternoon off and, for the first time in years, went round London as a tourist instead of as a businessman. I can tell you that London is looking absolutely spectacular – and everything seems to be working perfectly! I even had some amazingly good fortune and was able to hold the Olympic Torch on Thursday afternoon.
The other good news is that Britain will keep its top AAA credit rating. That rating reflects a stable outlook and is a reminder the world has confidence that Britain is dealing with its debt.
Britain encouraged by the Olympics, and with the assurance of retaining its AAA sovereign rating, is open for business and is making the biggest-ever pitch for international investment on the back of the 2012 Games.
My article on 24th April pointed out that the Olympics will not only bring the world’s best athletes and thousands of sports fans to our country but major business players are coming. Part of the “GREAT Britain” campaign started on Friday, with the launch of London 2012 Olympics: British Business Embassy. The embassy is based at the historic Lancaster House next to St James’s Palace and Green Park in London. The building has been transformed into a showcase for British businesses and will host some of the most powerful figures in finance during the Olympics. I expect to meet some friends from Saudi Arabia and other GCC states at various events this coming week.
Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord Green said: “Lancaster House is a unique venue that will showcase the very best of British capability to international companies; and demonstrate that the UK should be their first stop when looking to boost business. We will champion key sectors where British companies shine. These will include energy, the creative industries, technology, life sciences, infrastructure, global sports and advanced engineering.”
I rather like a comment about the British Business Embassy from Martin Uden, UK Trade and Investment’s managing director for the embassy, who says, “No one has done anything like this before. It is like the cream of Davos without the politicians.”
The British Business Embassy is arguably the biggest promotion of British business since the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Crystal Palace. It will host 17 summits during the Olympics and Paralympics and is the core of the Government’s plan to try to ensure the Olympics is an economic success and brings long-term benefits.
At the launch David Cameron, the Prime Minister, was joined by IMF chief Christine Lagarde, Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King and ECB President Mario Draghi for the Global Investment Conference, at the first major event hosted by the British Business Embassy.
George Osborne, the Chancellor said: “Britain has always been a country that is open to the world. In hosting the Olympic Games, we are showcasing that openness. He added, “As we welcome the world’s best athletes, we also welcome the world’s best companies, so that they can succeed, invest and create jobs in Britain.”
Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of advertising and public relations firm WPP and an economic adviser to the Prime Minister, praised the country’s political elite for “getting their business cards out”. Asked what Britain had to offer international investors as it goes through the worst double-dip recession for 50 years, he said: “Britain is a mature economy; it has first class education facilities, first class technology industries, and first class creative industries. Infrastructure is very strong and our geographical and time zone location is outstanding, we are in between east and west. All those things add up to a first-class opportunity.”
Other good news includes inward investment both large and small is growing well. Britain is an easy place to do business and to invest. Jobs generated by inward investment have risen by a fifth.
You can open a British company and have one hundred percent of the equity: there is no requirement to give a percentage of equity to a local partner. The local knowledge from partnerships can make sense but is optional.
This week the Government has officially unveiled the £8bn plans to redevelop Battersea Power Station by the site’s new Malaysian owners.
Another major announcement has been unveiled by the government. It involves a £9.4bn package of investment in the railways in England and Wales. The government is buying about 2,000 new carriages to tackle overcrowding, electrifying some lines, and pressing ahead with an infrastructure programme.
Jaguar Land Rover has confirmed that it is creating a new car plant and creating up to 750 jobs at its new factory near Wolverhampton.
Let me close with an example of a small investor in Britain. Fanny Lehideux, a 26 year old French lady, is excited by the opportunities on offer in this country. “In London you feel you can do anything – whether learning how to salsa, or starting a company,” she says. Fanny is one of many French graduates who have crossed the channel to live in the UK.
Fanny runs the British arm of Natoora, an organic food delivery service focusing on French food, from goat’s cheese and saucisson, to seasonal fruit and vegetables. Despite having no business experience, starting a firm in the UK was easy, says Fanny, whose firm is branching out to offer British food as well. Doing the same in France would be impossible, or at best a bureaucratic headache, she adds.
Prime Minister David Cameron told the global investors at the British Business Embassy that Britain was open for business and that he would talk personally to anyone who has ideas to create jobs and growth in the country.
Yes, welcome to London 2012 Olympics: British Business Embassy. The door is open, the opportunities are here and the messages of inclusiveness from the London Opening Ceremony are as important in business as much as in sport.