Q: Will working from home remain popular post-pandemic?
A: I've been speaking with people and have been surprised how much more productive many people say they have been working from home. People who are used to working in large operations have adjusted very rapidly to working from home. Some people have settled into it.
Q: To what extent have you seen companies continue prospecting?
A: Investment is on pause at the moment, but the number of enquiries we're getting is continuing. I've been making a whole series of calls to prospective investors, as well as reaching out to investors who are already here. I've seen absolutely no diminution of interest in investing in the UK. The merits of the UK are well known, so I'm drawing a real distinction between investment ‘ceasing’ and ‘pausing’.
Companies around the world are, nonetheless, concentrating on the effects of Covid-19 on their locality, firm and workplace. That is their utmost priority. Whether you're a private equity firm, a venture capital firm, an SME or a large company. It would be strange if it were anything other than that. Of course, people's intense preoccupation with [the pandemic] doesn't mean they're not still thinking about the future. But I would suggest that at this extraordinary moment in time, the present is more important to firms than the future.
Q: How is the crisis shifting foreign investors’ priorities?
A: The propensity of investors to invest in different countries and in sectors will change. We’re trying to think through those scenarios. I've no doubt that resilience is going to be way up peoples’ list of priorities – resilience at the national level and company level.
We're also going to see more diversification around global supply chains, with potential relocations. Part of my role is to make sure that the UK ends up as a net beneficiary of those [relocations]. It will be free trade agreements which unlock trade and investment.
At the moment, investors are looking for tender loving care. We are thinking of them and doing what we can to answer their questions. We’re also working on our post-Covid 19 investment strategy – and at its heart will be attracting foreign investment.
Q: London is a global city that welcomes foreign talent. Can it still rely on this?
A: I am afraid the crisis is going to change people's habits for the foreseeable future. People will understandably be cautious for some time to come. But the normality will resume at some point, although it's impossible to predict when. There will be light at the end of this horrible tunnel. There will be travel, there will be holidays. And when normalcy does return, the vibrancy of London will return with it.
Lord Grimstone’s career has spanned both the private and public sector. Prior to becoming minister for investment in March, he was chairman of Barclays Bank and Standard Life Aberdeen, as well as acting as lead non-executive director at the Ministry of Defence. fDi conducted this interview in late April.