London business leaders have set their sights on rebuilding a fairer, greener and more inclusive economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new survey, developed with support from UCL.
Created in partnership with UCL Public Policy, the UCL Grand Challenges programme and law firm Travers Smith, and undertaken prior to the second lockdown, the CBI London Business Survey draws together the views of nearly 200 of the capital’s business leaders, covering topics including Covid-19, Brexit, sustainability and equality.
Conducted annually, the survey identifies a clear commitment from businesses to build back from the pandemic with a focus on innovation, employee wellbeing and inclusivity in the wake of the pandemic, whilst pushing London towards its net-zero ambitions to address climate change.
The findings also highlight a desire to tackle inequalities in society, with more than 80% of business leaders surveyed believing the capital’s firms could do more to address this issue. Partnerships were identified as being vital to this, with over 60% of respondents stating they believe government and business should work together to reduce inequalities in society.
The survey also included a special focus on diversity and inclusion, painting a picture of a capital city with an awareness of the importance of fairness - and critically a determination to become more diverse and inclusive. This was a priority for almost 60% of firms, along with developing or enhancing sustainability and net-zero strategies (53%) and supporting social mobility (45%).
Only one in nine respondents said their company has not implemented a diversity and inclusion strategy but more than half pinpointed an area of diversity where they wanted to see improvement in their organisation, but they felt they needed more support.
However, the survey findings also reveal that the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted London’s economy, and reveals uncertainty among many businesses regarding their prospects for recovery. Four out of five respondents reported that their output had been impacted by the pandemic, with over a third expecting to still be operating below normal levels in a year’s time. Companies operating in arts, entertainment and recreation reported being hit particularly badly, with 94% of respondents from this sector yet to see a recovery, and three quarters expecting to still be suffering this time next year.
Compounded with uncertainty regarding the impact of Brexit on London businesses, the report highlights the numerous challenges to be faced in the coming year that could impede progress towards companies’ ambitions to create a fairer and more sustainable recovery in London. Overall, the report identifies the need for greater support to enable companies to surmount the barriers to making meaningful contributions to society in the wake of the pandemic.
Siobhan Morris, UCL Grand Challenge of Justice & Equality, said: "Despite the immense challenges businesses have faced this year, the findings of the survey clearly demonstrate that the business community views tackling inequality in society as a key priority and of utmost importance as we look to ’build forward better’. To do so, and effect change in tackling structural inequalities, requires working in partnership and forming alliances across all sectors of society.
"It is critical that inclusive interventions are underpinned by intersectional analysis of data , which reveals how people’s outcomes are simultaneously affected by multiple factors such as gender, disability, and ethnicity, as well as policies that take into account the complexity of inequalities. With such an approach, steps can be taken towards a fairer, more inclusive society."
Jordan Cummins, Head of London Policy at CBI, said: "This has been a year like no other for London’s businesses. Even before the second lockdown, the pandemic has dampened demand and restricted operations. With firms also needing to meet the challenges of Brexit preparedness, the resilience and adaptability witnessed amid this adversity has been remarkable.
"While the economy is not out of the woods yet, the London Business Survey positively notes how businesses’ future focus extends beyond just the balance sheet. In short, it’s not just about getting things going again; it’s about capitalising on this unique opportunity to rethink how London operates, who for, and to form a new-look business landscape which spreads opportunity more widely."
Kathleen Russ, Senior Partner at Travers Smith, said: "It is clear from the findings of this survey that there is a real desire from businesses to develop fairer and more diverse communities accounting for everyone’s needs. Tackling systemic inequalities and addressing the challenges facing under-represented and minority groups can feel like a monumental task.
"However, by working in partnership, the business community can take meaningful action towards creating a truly diverse and inclusive society. If we are able to do this, we will be invigorated by the huge potential of untapped talent across London and the innovation, creativity and profitability that comes with it".