Finance firms ‘need more overseas skills’

The City of London's policy chief has called on the government to introduce an immigration system that will enable the UK's financial services sector to attract the overseas talent it needs.

overseas talent
In an interview with the Financial Times, Catherine McGuinness, said financial firms needed a more liberal visa system to get the required skills from abroad at a time when other global hubs were fighting to take business away from the UK.

Her call comes at a time when the UK has record numbers of job vacancies across all sectors of the economy. Last week, the British Chambers of Commerce demanded the introduction of a system to enable temporary visas to be issued, and the trade body techUK revealed that digital industry vacancies were running at 100,000 a month.

Ms McGuinness, whose five-year tenure comes to an end this month, told the FT that Brexit was no longer an “existential threat” to the City and that damage to the UK's financial services had been much less than originally feared.

Will there be a new visa system to attract global talent?

“Of course we’ve lost business. Of course it’s still causing ongoing issues for firms as they navigate exactly how to structure their businesses," she said.

“But fewer jobs have moved than we originally predicted [and] we are hopefully moving through the worst of the tense relationships that we had with our EU partners and I hope that we can start moving on to a more positive footing with them individually and collectively.”

Now, however, Ms McGuinness said the government needed to look at the current immigration system and make it better suited to the needs of financial services.

“I think we need to look really carefully at ensuring that our firms continue to have access to the best international as well as domestic talent and ensure that our immigration system allows that,” she argued.
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Ms McGuinness also told the newspaper that it was important for the UK and EU to finalise a memorandum of understanding on regulatory co-operation in financial services.

Additionally, she expressed fears that London's needs might be overlooked by the government as it pursued its 'levelling up' agenda, intended to benefit less affluent areas of the nation, many in the northern half of the country.

She said there was a “very real risk” the UK capital would be overlooked by ministers. “I really remind them that if you cut down London, that doesn’t benefit the rest of the country automatically. It might damage it,” she said.

The City, she added, was working through the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced many companies in the capital to send workers home during lockdowns, and in turn hit small businesses such as pubs and shops that reled on commuters.

Businesses need to accept the ever changing work environment

Ms McGuinness said businesses must adjust to changing circumstances, given that many employees in financial and professional services industries were now engaging in hybrid working, spending only two or three days a week in the office.

“It’s too early to say what the long term pattern of work will be like,” she said. “I suspect this will leave us with a different pattern. If you’ve got only 80 per cent of the people coming in, that is a change in the pattern of demand. Businesses will need to adapt.

“Everybody’s committed to their central office space, but they may plan to use that in a different way.

“We need to make sure we provide the right sort of office space. People are telling us that they have different requirements, more collaboration, space, more flexibility, and more and more access to the outdoors.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted in the Spring 2022 issue of Think Global People.

Download the Summer 2022 Edition

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