CBI: fairness and equality can define London’s post-covid economy

Equality, innovation and net-zero priorities will help drive the capital's economic recovery, say London's business leaders

London business leaders have set their sights on rebuilding a fairer, greener and more inclusive economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – despite eight out of ten firms in the capital experiencing an impact on output this year.

The CBI London Business Survey – run in partnership with UCL and Travers Smith, draws together the views of nearly 200 of the capital’s business leaders and covers topics including Brexit, COVID-19, sustainability and equality.

Diversity and inclusion

This year’s survey included a special focus on equality and diversity and inclusion, painting a picture of a capital city with an awareness of the importance of fairness – and a determination to improve further.

Only one in nine (12%) respondents said their company had not implemented a diversity and inclusivity strategy, and only one third (36%) has no employee networks. More than half (53%) pinpointed an area of diversity where they wanted to see improvement from their company but felt they needed more support.

Kathleen Russ, Travers Smith Senior Partner, said: “Diversity and inclusion have long-been priorities for Travers Smith. It is clear from the findings of this survey that there is a real desire from businesses to develop fairer and more diverse communities accounting for everyone’s needs.

“Tackling systemic inequalities and addressing the challenges facing under-represented and minority groups can feel like a monumental task. However, by working in partnership, the business community can take meaningful action towards creating a truly diverse and inclusive society.

“If we are able to do this, we will be invigorated by the huge potential of untapped talent across London and the innovation, creativity and profitability that comes with it.”



More than three quarters (81%) of London business leaders believe the capital’s firms could do more to reduce inequality in society. However, companies were clear on the route towards implementing this change, with 61% stating they believe Government and business should work in equal partnership to reduce inequality across society.

Siobhan Morris, UCL Head of Programmes, Grand Challenges of Justice & Equality, said: “Despite the immense challenges businesses have faced this year, the findings of the survey clearly demonstrate that the business community views tackling inequality in society as a key priority and of utmost importance as we look to ‘build forward better’.

“To do so, and effect change in tackling structural inequalities requires working in partnership and forming alliances across all sectors of society.

“To ensure progress, it is critical that an intersectional analysis of data underpins inclusive interventions and that policies take into account the complexity and lived experience of inequalities. With such an approach, steps can be taken towards a fairer, more inclusive society.”

The highlights

The survey findings reveal just how deeply coronavirus has bitten into London’s economy in 2020 – and how much uncertainty remains within many businesses’ prospects for recovery.

Jordan Cummins, CBI London Head of Policy, said: “This has been a year like no other for London’s businesses. Even before the second lockdown, the pandemic has dampened demand and restricted operations. With firms also needing to meet the challenges of Brexit preparedness, the resilience and adaptability witnessed amid this adversity has been remarkable.

“While London’s economy is not out of the woods yet, the London Business Survey positively notes how businesses’ future focus extends beyond just the balance sheet.

“In short, it’s not just about getting things going again; it’s about capitalising on this unique opportunity to rethink how London operates, who for, and to form a new-look business landscape which spreads opportunity more widely.”

The survey gave grounds for longer-term optimism, including a clear commitment from businesses to bounce back with a focus on innovation, employee wellbeing, inclusivity, and pushing London towards its net-zero ambitions. 

Key survey findings include:


  • Almost one-third of respondents (32%) said they were unprepared for the impact of a possible no-deal Brexit – and 58% said Covid-19 had impeded their Brexit preparedness.
  • A trade deal with the EU, including comprehensive services coverage, was a priority for London’s recovery with more firms (72%) than any other factor.  


  • Four out of five respondents (80%) said the pandemic had impacted their output. Over two thirds (68%) had yet to see trade return to normal (even before the second national lockdown) and 34% expected to be still operating below normal levels in a year.
  • Companies operating in arts, entertainment and recreation face a challenging outlook. Almost all (94%) of respondents from this sector have yet to see a recovery, and three quarters (75%) expect their business to be still suffering in 12 months.  


  • Investing in innovation and technology (55%), supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing (53%) and supporting new ways of working (51%) were immediate priorities for most respondents.
  • In the longer-term, improving diversity and inclusion (58%), developing or enhancing sustainability and net-zero strategies (53%) and supporting social mobility (45%) were the most common goals.
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