London First, the leading business group in the UK capital, is preparing to rename itself after concluding the brand clashes with the government’s “levelling up” agenda.
With prime minister Boris Johnson determined to spread investment more evenly around the country, the group has decided that its name is “tin-eared”.
“We are doing a name change because the name looks inappropriate when everyone is talking about helping build up other (UK) towns and cities,” said one person involved with the group. “The name was meant to reflect London’s pre-eminence compared to other global cities like New York or Paris, but it could be easily misconstrued.”
London First has begun a consultation with current and recently departed members to gauge views on its rebranding.
One insider said a name change appeared an obvious choice given the need to strengthen links with the regions to help support economic growth. However, a discussion was needed about how to retain the brand recognition of London First, he added.
The group was set up in 1992 following the end of the Greater London Council, the former local government administrative body for the region, to lobby for businesses in the city.
“London First was set up by business leaders in the 1990s when the capital was in the doldrums. Today the capital is a powerhouse that works with and for the whole UK, and tops the global city rankings for economic heft,” said a London First spokesman.
“As we look out beyond Brexit and the pandemic, and with a new CEO at the helm, this is the right time to refresh our brand so it reflects London’s future competitiveness and our capital’s role in driving recovery, jobs and growth for the whole of the UK.”
London First’s renaming comes amid a wider debate about what “levelling up” means in practice and whether it could disadvantage the more prosperous south.
The prime minister has insisted that his attempts to “level up” the country do not mean that he wants to “decapitate” London.
Yet the process of “levelling up” is widely seen as an attempt to shift investment away from the South East into places further from the capital.
The Treasury has tweaked its Green Book, which governs the rationale for infrastructure investment, to take into account regional imbalances.
Senior officials said that although Johnson used the phrase “level up” in the Conservative manifesto for the 2019 general election, there were no worked-up proposals at that point. At a meeting of key figures from the Treasury and Downing Street in early 2020 — held to discuss levelling up — there was only the equivalent of a “blank sheet of paper” according to one person present.
Since then the Treasury has unveiled a £4.8bn “levelling up” fund for some of Britain’s poorer towns.
The task of fleshing out Johnson’s signature policy has fallen to Michael Gove, who was appointed communities secretary in September.
He is writing a “levelling up” white paper, which has been delayed until early 2022. It is expected to include further English devolution as well as a quango to monitor the impact of all government policy on regional inequalities.