Monday interview: TheCityUK chief executive Miles Celic

Miles Celic, the boss of TheCityUK, the trade body for the financial services and related professional services industry, says the organisation can work with governments 'of any political stripe'.

'Financial services in Scotland is in a really strong place,' says TheCityUK chief Miles Celic. Picture: Jiri Rezac
'Financial services in Scotland is in a really strong place,' says TheCityUK chief Miles Celic. Picture: Jiri Rezac

After Thursday’s bombshell general election brought a hung parliament and humiliation for Prime Minister Theresa May in her bid to firm her position in the Brexit negotiations, that claim will be tested.

• READ MORE: General election news

We meet on the morning of the election and Celic, who took over as chief executive of TheCityUK in September, says: “We will see what happens after today. But we work with all sorts of governments around the world as well as the UK. We will continue to stress the importance of the sector to drive the wider UK economy.”

Amid the political flotsam and jetsam of the weekend, he still played a straight bat. “What’s clear is that government and business need to work more closely… to ensure stability and continued economic growth.

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“With the imminent Brexit negotiations, it is vital that we prioritise clarity around the UK’s approach and maintain a sharp focus on getting the best possible deal. We have been working hard to detail what this looks like, and the (election) result does not change the core issues that need agreement.”

Despite the financial crash and its decade-long aftermath, it is undeniable that financial services is a linchpin of the UK economy. It accounts for 11 per cent of GDP, made a trade surplus of £72 billion in 2015, and employs 2.2 million people, with two-thirds of the sector outside London and the Square Mile, including powerhouses Celic cites such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester.

TheCityUK has about 200 member organisations, including close links with Scottish Financial Enterprise. Even allowing for Royal Bank of Scotland’s continuing travails, Celic says: “Financial services in Scotland is in a really strong place. It’s exciting, particularly with the fintech Glasgow and Edinburgh are attracting.”

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He is also not panicking that a clutch of big-name financial services players have announced they are creating new EU-domiciled subsidiaries to keep their gateway to 500 million consumers in the single market.

That is even before further uncertainty now added to the Brexit negotiations with a Tory government on the ropes. But Celic says: “We are not seeing some great movement of jobs out of London. Any company needs to make contingency plans. But there are still also jobs coming into the UK. The US and Asia still have an appetite to do business here.”

On our exit from the EU, Celic says his members want “mutual market access” as near as possible to what they enjoy now, freedom of movement of financial talent and a “bridging period” between the end of the Article 50-triggered negotiations and implementation. “It depends how broadly similar a deal we get as to how long that bridging period needs to be,” he adds.

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Also built in, he believes, should be the recognition between UK and EU financial services regulators that although they need to go in the same direction, “over time you allow for different regulators to take different routes”.

In short, he believes we need a “bespoke deal tailored for Britain. The deals Switzerland and Norway have achieved are not templates for us”.

Celic began his career in media, making programmes for the BBC and others, has also worked in the UK parliament, mainly focused on foreign affairs, and did a stint for Omnicom, one of the world’s largest communications agencies, where his clients included the Red Cross and various global financial firms.

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As with other business organisations, TheCityUK, he says, is also passionate about getting improvements in UK infrastructure, from an extra Heathrow runway to Crossrail in London. “Infrastructure is vital if you are going to keep investment coming into the UK and have a competitive economy,” he adds.

Many believe the substantial reverses of the SNP have put to bed its dream of another independence referendum for perhaps a generation. Talking before Thursday’s vote, Celic shows the diplomatic side that must be a key part of his role — pressing the case for the industry, but treading warily through political minefields. “It is a matter for discussions between the Scottish and UK governments and the decision is for the Scottish people,” he says.

30-SECOND CV

Born: Salford, 1973

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Education: Moorside High School; Eccles sixth form college; Balliol College, Oxford

What did you want to be at school? In the armed forces

What was your first serious job? Researcher in news and current affairs

Best piece of business advice ever given to you? Hire people you yourself would want to work for

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Last holiday destination? Lake District

Any technology you could not do without? iPhone

Car: Land Rover

What makes you angry? Man United’s inability to find the back of the net

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What is the best thing about your job? Working with great people to represent a great industry