The British minister who helped to deliver the 2012 London Olympics has visited the UAE to drum up further financial support for £300 billion (Dh1.77 trillion) in infrastructure projects planned for the next decade.
Energy projects spanning gas, nuclear and renewables and waste water management were among the schemes Lord Deighton and his team discussed with Mubadala Development, the strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, and Masdar, the clean energy firm.
Lord Deighton, the commercial secretary to the United Kingdom’s treasury, and minister responsible for infrastructure, also met Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
His visit, which ends on Thursday, is the latest in a recent strengthening of relations between the UK and the UAE following the visit by Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, to Britain in April and Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the Emirates in 2010.
“The prime minister asked me to come here to help make sure we can translate the close strategic relationship between the two countries into some tangible opportunities,” he said.
“There are significant global investors in Abu Dhabi, whether they are sovereign wealth funds investing in the financial market or investors directly in industrial opportunities and I’m interested in discussing with them opportunities for them to invest in the UK.”
The minister said he was also keen to promote how UK businesses could help in delivering Abu Dhabi’s 2030 economic vision.
After a more than 20-year career as a banker, both with Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, Lord Deighton went on to head the committee responsible for delivering the London Olympics.
The success of the games prompted prime minister David Cameron to bring Lord Deighton into his government to oversee big infrastructure projects to support growth and jobs.
Lord Deighton said he was able to discuss with Abu Dhabi investors how the biting austerity measures imposed on the UK economy since 2010 were the right approach.
“Investors here realise that borrowing more is not the answer to a debt crisis,” he said. “What’s terrific now is that we’re seeing growth come through, showing you can cut government spending and allow the private sector to help drive growth.”
The UAE is already a leading investor in the UK. Masdar has funded the world’s largest offshore wind farm – The London Array – while DP World is investing £1.5bn in the London Gateway port project. In addition, the privately held Abu Dhabi United Group is the owner of Manchester City, a relationship that funnels further investment and trade.
The two countries were on track to hit a target of raising bilateral trade to £12bn by 2015, he said.
Lord Deighton also reassured the UAE’s airlines that the UK was committed to bolstering its airport capacity.
James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad Airways, has frequently called for clarity over the UK’s aviation policy to help it to decide where to send its aircraft in future.
“It’s a very important question,” he said. “We need to expand runway capacity in the south-east of England. It’s a very difficult question to determine where as it’s an extremely densely populated part of the world. Politically it’s a very difficult subject, which is why we’ve referred it to an independent commission, the Davies Commission, to look at all of the issues around this.”
Lord Deighton also held talks with the British Business Group in Abu Dhabi to discuss ways it can help companies develop the emirate’s own infrastructure plans to diversify its economy.
Carillion, the UK construction company that built projects linked to the London Olympics, is among the companies shortlisted to build the Zayed National Museum on Saadiyat Island. A decision on that contract is expected in January.
Lord Deighton also reiterated the UK’s support for Dubai’s bid to host Expo 2020.
“Where can I be helpful is when it makes that switch from the ‘vote for us’ campaign to the conversion into a delivery organisation,” he said. “We’d like to help our friends in Dubai do that switch.”