London is one of the world’s most important business centres. The global city is a commerce and finance hub, according to the Institute for Urban Strategies, as well as a centre for education, entertainment, tourism, media, research and development, healthcare, professional services, and transport. There are five major business districts across the city, each with a distinct character and economic strengths.
City of London
The City of London is the historic centre of England’s capital. First settled by the Romans in the around 47 AD, it is often simply referred to as the City. Emerging as one of the world’s most important commercial centres during the 19th century, the City remains a significant business and financial hub. Although the area only has a population of 7,000 according to the 2011 Census, more than 380,000 work in the City of London. Approximately 155,000 people or 41 percent of workers in the City were employed in the financial sector in 2011, with 27 percent or 105,000 people employed by companies in the professional and estate sector.
The greatest concentration of financial companies is found in the east, particularly Bishopsgate. Insurance firms also have a major presence in the east end of the City. Legal firms primarily found in the north and west, while professional and estate companies are largely based in the west. Some of London’s tallest buildings are found in the City, including the Natwest Tower, the first skyscraper in the UK. Newer skyscrapers include 30 St. Mary Axe (also known as the Gherkin), the Broadgate Tower, and the Heron Tower. Major office buildings under development include the Pinnacle, 20 Fenchurch Street, and the Leadenhall Building. The district serves as the headquarters for several major national and international firms, including Aviva, BT Group, Lloyds Banking Group, Prudential, Standard Chartered, Ernst and Young, Unilever, Old Mutual, and several of the world’s largest law firms.
London’s secondary financial centre is Canary Wharf. Situated approximately four kilometres or 2.5 miles from the City of London, Canary Wharf is located in the borough of Tower Hamlets. Some of the UK’s tallest buildings are found in the district, including One Canada Square. Once the site of derelict docklands, Canary Wharf now boasts over 16 millions square feet of office, retail and leisure space. More than half of the property is owned and managed by Canary Wharf Group plc (CWG), a partnership of property development, investment and management companies. The district features 35 completed buildings and employs approximately 100,000 people, according to CWG.
Canary Wharf is the home of some of the world’s biggest and most influential companies, particularly in the financial sector. Major employers and tenants in the district include HSBC, Citigroup, 3i Infotech, Wells Fargo, Barclays, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife, Clifford Chance, FTSE Group, MasterCard, Infosys, Credit Suisse, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley. Canary Wharf is linked to the rest of London by the Docklands Light Railway and the London Underground. Part of the Crossrail project, the Canary Wharf railway station will open in 2017. London City Airport also connects the district with cities across Europe.
Sitting on the north bank of the River Thames, Westminster is the political heart of the United Kingdom. Home to the Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, the district is also one of the city’s top tourist draws. Many performing arts businesses thrive in Westminster thanks to the presence of the West End theatre district. Major employers also include hedge fund and private equity funds, which are concentrated in Mayfair and St. James’s. Firms in media and creative industries sectors are largely based in Soho. The retail sector is also a major economic driver and is based on Oxford Street, one of Europe’s major shopping districts and home of some of Britain’s leading fashion labels.
Many large national and international companies operate global and European headquarters in the City of Westminster. Companies with head offices in the district include BAE Systems, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), BP, the Economist Group, Kingfisher plc, Marks & Spencer, Rolls-Royce Group, EasyGroup, SABMiller, British American Tobacco, Pearson PLC, Gulf Oil International, and AstraZeneca. Rio Tinto Group, Northrop Grumman, Korean Air, and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office also have offices in Westminster.
Camden and Islington
Two of London’s inner boroughs, Camden and Islington form a smaller business district in London. Although largely residential, Camden and Islington are home to several businesses in creative industries, including design, art and fashion. The business district is also the base for finance and architecture firms. The Angel, Upper Street and Essex Road in Islington offer a wide array of shops with antiques and collectibles, as well as art galleries.
One of the district’s major economic centres is Camden Town. The district is located on the London canal network. Once a centre for industry, Camden Town boasts many retail, entertainment and tourism related businesses. Camden is also known for its alternative culture scene and markets. Markets include the Inverness Street market, Camden Lock market, Camden Lock village, Buck Street market, Stables market, and the Electric Ballroom indoor market. The district’s markets are also major tourist draws. Camden is also the headquarters for Atlantic Books, MTV and Associated Press Television News.
Lambeth and Southwark
Situated on the south bank of the River Thames, Lambeth and Southwark were once largely dominated by light industry and factories. Today, the business district is home to many of London’s accountancy and consultancy firms. A former haven for criminals and free traders, the borough of Southwark has seen extensive regeneration in recent years. With offices of the Greater London Authority based in Southwark, local government is also a major employer in the business district.
Tourism is a significant driver in Lambeth and Southwark, which are part of the London’s South Bank tourist area. Southwark is the site of The Shard London Bridge, an 87-story skyscraper within the London Bridge Quarter. Completed in 2013, the building is the tallest in the European Union. Other draws include Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral in Southwark, and London County Hall and the London Eye in Lambeth. Lambeth is also the home of Waterloo Station, one of Europe’s business transportation hubs.