In the early days of a government, it is customary for people to make their pitches as to what the new administration should be doing.
This is mine. I cannot understand why this government (in common with its predecessors) seems to be determined to ignore one of the UK’s relatively few successful export industries. I speak, of course, of legal services.
While George Osborne has dropped his ‘march of the makers’ rhetoric, is it not time he replaced it with the slightly less alliterative ‘march of the service providers’? The fact is that legal and accountancy services have become huge and profitable export industries, despite the lack of government help and a number of difficulties placed in their way.
One example is my practice area, international arbitration, which is a major growth area for legal practice. London has long held a world-leading position in international arbitration because of its long history of arbitration in a variety of industries; the widespread use of English law and language in contracts; and the corresponding popularity of London as the seat of arbitration.
However, that position is under threat because of the rise of aggressive competitors and a paucity of high-class arbitration facilities. We also have an arbitration act which is showing its age and there appears to be little interest in its renewal.
Singapore aggressively set out to take a large slice of the arbitration market with the opening of Maxwell Chambers as a dedicated arbitration service in 2010.
The Rolls Building was completed soon afterwards. Those parts of the building which were not required for the courts could have been used as a top-of-the-range arbitration suite which could have competed with Maxwell. Yet it was felt better to lease them to commercial tenants.
Unfortunately, this is the kind of short-term thinking which has led to Asia pushing the UK aside in a range of industries. It could easily happen to international arbitration too – yet the money required to fix the issue would be tiny and repaid many times over by ensuring London remains the top destination for international arbitration.
If this government wishes to live up to its pro-business rhetoric, I hope it recognises the importance of legal services to the UK economy and spends just a fraction of its overall export promotion budget on something that we are rather good at.
Mark Goodrich, Twickenham, Middlesex