Saudi Arabia: Visit of the Lord Mayor of London: 23-25 February 2014
British Embassy Riyadh
Timely and well received visit to Saudi Arabia by the Lord Mayor of London. The visit provided a number of significant opportunities to showcase UK expertise in the financial and professional services, which the Lord Mayor was able to promote as she met with a wide range of Saudi interlocutors, including heads of the major financial institutions and senior members of the wider business community in Riyadh, Jeddah and Al Khobar.
The Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman Fiona Woolf, visited Saudi Arabia on 23-25 February accompanied by a business delegation representing members of the financial and professional services, and focused on infrastructure development as well as financial and professional services. The Lord Mayor’s trip was part of a trend of increasing high level interaction between the UK and Saudi Arabia on commercial and economic issues, including the Joint Ministerial Committee held in London on 4 February.
The focus in Riyadh was on the main financial institutions and development agencies, most of which allowed the Lord Mayor to be accompanied by the business delegation. In a call on the Governor of Riyadh, HRH Prince Khalid bin Bandar Al Saud, he stated his interest in exploring joint working with London in order to share knowledge and opportunities in infrastructure and transport development, particularly in light of Riyadh’s considerable planned future growth. The Lord Mayor referred to London’s experience in the development of Crossrail and its associated logistical challenges, noting that The City Corporation would be able to work with the Riyadh Development Authority and London & Partners in order to share and link examples of best practice. The Governor proposed to send a small group of relevant officials to London on a fact-finding mission, in particular covering temporary traffic management and security. The Lord Mayor and business delegation also visited the main Riyadh Development Authority (ADA) offices, where a presentation outlined in more detail the scale of the Riyadh expansion programme, including the extensive metro project.
The Lord Mayor had the opportunity to see one major part of the new Riyadh development projects herself with the visit to the massive King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD), which is managed by the Al Rayadah Investment Company. The visit was hosted by the Governor of the Public Pensions Agency, HE Mohammed Al Kherashi, and included an impressive presentation and tour of the site, where UK firms and services constitute around 20% of the current development – with the opportunity for more. The Lord Mayor was particularly interested in the development of a new Financial Academy on the site, where UK skills across a broad range of expertise could be utilised..
The Lord Mayor also called on the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), hosted by the Chairman, HE Abdulmalik Al Sheikh, again with the business delegation in attendance. The Lord Mayor used this opportunity to congratulate the CMA on their tenth anniversary as the securities industry regulator, and regulator of the largest capital market in the region. The Chairman said that he was keen to encourage more overseas investment into the Saudi market (but not yet direct participation by foreign investors), and to develop the mutual fund industry. A huge proportion of the CMA’s funding was going towards training (20%), and the UK had until now been a major provider through Henley Business School and secondments to FSA, HSBC and others. The Lord Mayor emphasised that the UK should be considered as a priority training destination, especially in terms of the financial and professional services experience and expertise available.
There was also a brief call on the Public Investment Fund (PIF), where the bulk of the discussion came from the business delegation, which was interested in whether PIF or some of the sub-funds they manage would be interested in more UK orientated investment, particularly in the area of new technologies. The Assistant Secretary General reaffirmed that PIF remained focussed primarily on investment within the Kingdom.
In Jeddah, the Lord Mayor and accompanying business delegation visited the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). The Lord Mayor congratulated the President HE Mohammed Ahmed Al Ali on the 40th anniversary of the IDB, noting that much of this period was spent under his wise stewardship. The President thanked the UK on its successful hosting of the World Islamic Economic Forum and its commitment to a sovereign sterling sukuk. The Lord Mayor noted that IDB was committed to its own sterling sukuk and offered to host a roundtable discussion at Mansion House to help them overcome any concerns, including ‘utilization of funds’. The President immediately accepted and tasked his Vice President to take this forward with CG Jeddah. He also accepted a wider offer of raising IDB profile in the UK with British companies interested in participating in their infrastructure projects in its 57 member states, especially in the area of PPP and consultancy services. Separately the business delegation received a detailed briefing on IDB activities and the opportunities available to them.
At a lunch hosted by Saudi Bin Laden Group (SBG), Vice Chairman Sheikh Yehia Bin Laden briefed the Lord Mayor on their iconic projects at the Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madina. Both projects will double capacity at each venue with 1.5 million pilgrims able to pray at any given time. They were also keen to accept the Lord Mayor’s offer of participating in an event in London on new PPP and financing structures, although admitted their priority was on the short term rather than longer term finance.
At an afternoon reception at the Consulate, the Lord Mayor and business delegation met with a range of legal, financial and investment companies based in Jeddah. The Lord Mayor was reassured by the number of British legal firms active in Saudi Arabia but noted the continued demand for further professional services’ involvement in the Kingdom. SEDCO Holdings, as the largest partner in ‘The Pinnacle’ project, briefed the Lord Mayor on their continuing commitment to completing the tallest building in the City of London.
Sheikh Khalid Ali Reza (CEO, Xenel Group) hosted a dinner that evening which was an opportunity for the Lord Mayor and business delegation to engage members of the main Jeddah based merchant families, former Pakistani PM Shaukat Aziz (a member of Xenel Board of Directors) and the CEO of Jeddah Metro (one of our HVOs).
In Al-Khobar, Saudi Aramco’s base, the energy sector was the main focus. Saudi Aramco’s Chief Executive, Khalid A. Al Falih, briefed the Lord Mayor on the opportunities for UK service providers in the oil, gas, chemical and renewables sector – including finance and education, training and quality – and the firm gave the business delegation a comprehensive tour of its impressive headquarters. There was also discussion of the next Saudi British Energy Week in December. The Lord Mayor emphasised the advantages of London as a centre providing a range of financial, consulting and legal services for Aramco. The Lord Mayor and the business delegation also had the opportunity to meet the leading industrialists of the Eastern Province at a lunch hosted by Sheikh Khaled Olayan, Chairman of the Saudi British Bank.
A diverse Saudi programme across three regions highlighted the enormous and wide ranging business potential and opportunities within the Kingdom, with a strong focus on how those firms and institutions in the financial and professional services sector could contribute. The Lord Mayor’s visit generated significant interest from the Saudi side, particularly in terms of infrastructure development, financing and future facilities management potential.
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