Anthony Hilton: We're meant to be open for business so why make life so hard for investors?


Breakfast on Thursday with the Lord Mayor of London David Wootton and some senior City figures in the private dining room of his official residence, the magnificent Mansion House.

Apart from discovering that as children in the 1960s we were brought up barely a mile apart in Bradford the most intriguing part of the discussion focused on what recently arrived overseas investors most disliked about coming to Britain and what, by implication, was deterring others from setting up businesses here.

The City used to boast there were more American banks in London than there were in New York and it is so international, in insurance, legal services, accounting, shipping and commodities, that there is no shortage of potential opinions.

But there were three complaints which stood out: the diminishing number of direct flights into London and the quite disgraceful queues for foreign arrivals when they do get to Heathrow; the struggle to get working visas for key foreign nationals whom they want to relocate to London; and the increasing political risk with the Government adding hugely to uncertainty by arbitrarily changing the tax regimes in areas like banking, insurance and North Sea oil, or the permitted rates of return on regulated assets.

As one remarked, it is a complete waste of time for the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to jet around the world saying Britain is open for business when the reality is when people get here they find the opposite. It has not passed notice that all three of these problems have been made worse by the Conservative wing of the Coalition opposing a third runway at Heathrow, restricting visas and demanding detailed immigration checks and playing political games with tax and regulation.