THE BLOG

A Passage to India

15/10/2014 14:52 BST | Updated 15/12/2014 10:59 GMT

One of my hats is Co-Chair of the Government's Professional and Business Services Council (PBSC). This means representing the interests of London and the UK's professional and business services sector, including law, accountancy, architecture, computer services and other business services, to the wider world. In this capacity I am visiting India again to explore ways that UK firms can help in the development of Indian infrastructure and open up business there for our own firms.

There is a lot of optimism in India at the moment following the election victory of the BJP party. Senior ministers are seen as more business-friendly than their predecessors, and the Reserve Bank of India appears to be more flexible on international banks and foreign capital inflows.

From the PBSC's viewpoint the main issue is access to Indian markets. Crucially, we need to make India feel it is in partnership with UK firms. In the past the tendency has been to emphasise the selling of our goods and services; whereas, promoting a culture of 'working together' is much more productive. This was one of the reasons I led the opening of the City of London Corporation's office in Mumbai - together with the City's Advisory Group of prominent Indian business people, seven years ago.

India is rightly celebrated for its IT expertise, but is keen to broaden perceptions of its capabilities. The Prime Minister's new 'Make in India' initiative is intended to encourage the growth of the manufacturing sector. The Mumbai-Bangalore industrial corridor, where the UK is the partner country, offers huge opportunities for UK professional and business services to develop large projects. In the same way, the Indian government is keen to address infrastructure issues - around roads and sanitation for example. In order to be part of this growth, the PBSC support Oliver Letwin's ideas for a UK-backed rupee bond, which would facilitate the development of Indian infrastructure by British contractors.

India is clearly open for business and represents a huge market for UK professional and business services. But challenges remain. Much as India has promised to end red tape and to welcome foreign investors, she still maintains substantial tariff and non-tariff barriers that inhibit trade with the EU. We should also acknowledge enduring issues with bureaucracy and 'facilitation payments.' From the Indian perspective, the UK's strict immigration rules and visa restrictions are deeply resented. I fully appreciate our government's position, but a relaxation at least on the higher education front would stop the UK losing out on Indian students - who are presently heading to American, Canadian and Australian Universities.

The UK government is fully awake to the massive business opportunities that India represents. The PBSC feel that the Indian market could be more open to British professional skills. I hope that my forthcoming visit to this fascinating country might be a small part of a new, mutually beneficial, business relationship.