Bernard Ginns: Geopolitical strife is good for UK safe haven status

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WHISPER it but all this geopolitical strife is good news for the British economy.

It could be good for Yorkshire too, if the Government makes the right policy decisions, particularly on tax.

Volatility encourages capital flight and when capital flies it heads to London, the financial capital of the world.

The latest minutes of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting highlight some of the risks.

They list “heightened geopolitical tensions in Russia and Ukraine, and in the Middle East; a technical default on an Argentinian public debt payment; the announcement of public support for a large Portuguese bank; and comments by the chair of the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) regarding asset valuations in particular sectors”.

You can add to those the devastating impact of Ebola and spreading fear of contagion in West Africa, the crackdown on corruption in China and recentralisation of power under President Xi Jinping and yesterday the resignation of the French government.

Since the financial crisis, money has flooded into London from all corners of the world, primarily into high-end real estate, with the effect of pricing out many ordinary citizens and inflating a mega-bubble in London house prices.

But the money has flowed and will continue to flow for as long as people carry on killing each other, blowing things up and creating an air of instability that cause affluent people overseas to feel sufficiently uneasy to move their wealth to safer shores. Hence the safe haven status of the UK.

This is good news for us because it means more capital will be put to work in this country, generating returns not just for the oligarchs and sheikhs but also the army of British service sector workers such as accountants, lawyers and bankers as well as tax receipts for the Treasury.

The challenge, and Number 10 is alert to this, is that London is overheating.

Recent research from EY illustrest the point. If London was a country, EY says it would be the fourth largest in Europe in terms of foreign direct investment.

Excluding London and the South East, the level of foreign direct investment in the UK was 20 per cent lower in 2013 than 2010.

The UK also scored badly on manufacturing investments against its European rivals.

The majority of foreign investors currently view the UK regions negatively, the Big Four accountancy firm found. This shows there is plenty of PR work to do.

Some of the best minds in Government are looking at ways to encourage investment further afield in the UK, which of course represents a huge opportunity for the North of England in general and Yorkshire in particular. But ministers and their servants will have to consider some radical solutions to get that capital moving up to northern climes.

In these times, tax is one of the most attractive ways to lure companies and investment. Look at the so-called inversion deals that are persuading corporate giants like Pfizer to pursue multi-billion dollar takeovers of UK-domiciled businesses.

Why not make tax even more competitive in the North of England?

Why not transform the whole of our region into one giant Enterprise Zone, with some truly compelling investment benefits, rather than the rather feeble ones on offer currently?

There is a general election coming up. The Chancellor George Osborne has already sketched out his plans for improved transport connectivity in the North.

I expect the Government will be backing those up with some heavyweight incentives for foreign investors to put their cash to work in this part of the world, especially in manufacturing and technology.