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London Doing Business

Business Profile

It is impossible to underestimate the importance of London to the UK’s economy. With an annual GDP larger than many small countries, the City of London is the epicentre of British financial life and one of the world’s leading international financial centres.

This square mile located on the eastern side of central London and referred to as ‘The City’, boasts an impressive concentration and variety of banks, insurance companies and other business services. In fact, financial and business services throughout London employ around a third of the Greater London workforce.

Over the last few years, the British government has delegated greater responsibility to the Bank of England (website: www.bankofengland.co.uk), while the London Stock Exchange (website: www.londonstockexchange.com) has floated itself.

However, The City and the stock market in particular has been suffering badly in 2002. Post the September 11 terrorist attacks, investor confidence seems to have gone and the stock market has reached a six-year low. Major companies seem to be feeling the pinch, which has a knock-on effect on jobs. Beyond the financial heart of London, law, computing, design, media, arts and fashion are all struggling to avoid the global slump, with the advertising sector being worst hit.

One industry that has shown signs of recovery is the tourism industry, which has fought back from the double setback of Foot and Mouth and September 11 to stage a partial recovery. Although 2001 was one of the worst years on record for tourism in London, 2002 levels look set to be only slightly down on those of the years preceding the outbreak of Foot and Mouth.

The list of companies based in London is almost endless as most major international companies have offices here, including IBM, Sun Microsystems and Warburgs. London in the 1980s and 1990s saw a decline in production and manufacturing jobs and a growth in the service sector. However, strengths remain in modern product-based manufacturing – specialist firms producing niche products – and high-tech companies. New light industry parks have sprung up out of town, although many businesses (such as computing) still prefer to stay closer to The City.

For the more fashionable industries, such as media and design, a West End address is the most sought after, especially one in Soho. To the east of the City, the Docklands has come of age and is now a credible and popular business location with good public transport links and modern office complexes.

The centrepiece is Canary Wharf, Britain’s tallest building, which has been joined recently by two neighbouring skyscrapers. One of these, the state-of-the-art Excel, is increasingly giving traditional conference venues a run for their money, with the world’s largest travel exhibition, World Travel Market, moving to the venue for 2002.

Unemployment in Greater London is low by European standards but slightly higher than the UK average at 6% (2001 annual rate) compared to a national average of 4.9% (2001 annual rate).

Business Etiquette

Business hours are officially 0900 or 0930 until 1700 or 1730, although in practice many companies have much longer hours. Business in London is intense and fast paced. Extended business lunches and post-work drinks were regarded as part of the modern working environment until relatively recently. Nowadays the emphasis is increasingly on hard work and long hours.

Some older establishments may be strictly formal, however, meetings are (as a rule) relatively relaxed and first names are often used after the initial introduction. However, British businesspeople are