Britain is a major financial centre providing a wide range of specialised services. The country’s economy has for a long time been directed through the great financial institutions which together are known as “The City”, capital “C”, and which are mainly located in the famous “Square Mile” of the City of London.
The “Square Mile” in the Roman Times historically emerged on the Thames as the business and industrial nucleus of the future London. Through centuries of business and religious developments the City assumed its role of the world commercial centre as it is known today . When in the 20th century Great Britain lost its empire and other financial centres got established in the world, the city adapted itself to changed circumstances to remain a world financial leader. The City of London has the greatest concentration of banks in the world (responsible for about a quarter of total international bank lending) , the world’ s biggest insurance market (with about 1/5 of the international market ), a Stock Exchange with a larger listing of securities than any other exchange, and it remains the principal international centre for transactions in a large number of commodities. A large proportion of Britain’s wealth has been invested by the City overseas. The City’s annual foreign income roughly double that of the British manufacturing industries. The above proves the City’s world significance as a financial centre. Geographically the City is a large office area bubbling with life at daytime and comfortably quiet outside the office hours. It’s historical sights like the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Museum of London, the Monument and others as well as the beautifully impressive architecture of the office buildings attract crowds of visitors. The only housing project, the Barbican, provides very expensive accommodation along with an arts centre, a school and some official premises.
Since after the mid - 80s financial and related services have started to expand outside the “Square Mile” though the City of London remains the symbol and actual reality of the country’s power.
C h a p t e r 2
Britain’s Economic and Financial Position Today at Home and Abroad.
Finance and industry of the British economy go hand in hand as industry requires a diversified network of financial institutions to develop successfully. Although Britain’s financial power today exceeds that of the country’s industrial achievement, the country was for years “the workshop of the world”. It still remains a highly industrialised country but the end of the 20th century saw tendencies for the economic decline.
Historically, after two world wars and the loss of its empire Britain found it increasingly difficult to maintain its leading position in Europe. The growing competition from the United States and later Japan aggravated the country’s position.
Britain struggled to find a balance between the governments intervention in the economy and almost completely free-market economy of the United States. The theories of the great British pre-war economist J. M. Keynes stated that capitalist society could only survive if the government controlled, managed and even planned much of its economy. These ideas failed to get Britain out of the image of a country with quiet market towns linked by steam trains puffing slowly through green meadows. Arrival of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative prime-minister in office between 1979 and 1990, discarded these theories as completely wrong. Mrs. Thatcher claimed that all controls and regulations of the economy should be removed and a market economy should recover. Her targets were nationalised industries. She refused to assist the struggling enterprises of the coal and steal industries which were slimmed down in order to improve their efficiency. In the steel industry, for example, the workspace was reduced from 130000 people to 50000 by 1990s and the production of 1 ton of steel by 1990 took only 3,7 man hours instead of 12 man hours in 1980. The government believed that privatisation would increase efficiency and economic freedom would encourage private initiative. A lot of big publicly owned production and service companies such as British Telecommunications, British Gas, British Airways, Rolls Royce and even British regional Water Authorities were sold into private hands. Britain began to turn into a country of shareholders. Between 1979 and 1992 the proportion of the population owning shares increased from 7 % to 24%.
The Conservative government reduced the income tax from 33% to 25% as an incentive in production. This did not lead to any loss of revenue, since at the lower rates fewer people tried to avoid tax. At the same time the government doubled the VAT on goods and services to 15%. Today it is 17%.