By Kalyeena Makortoff, Press Association Chief City Correspondent
The woman tasked with attracting City workers to Paris as Brexit rolls on is stepping up her charm offensive, with plans for a new private English school to cater for the wealthy.
Marie-Celie Guillaume, the chief executive of La Defense – the business district in the west of Paris – is banking on family life being the key that unlocks a raft of new relocations from Britain to France.
“Today we’re here to say that we’re ready to welcome families, because the issue is I think – behind the discussions about businesses and statistics – we’re changing the lives of people.
“And if you want to move employees you’re going to change the lives of their families, of their kids who are living here and have their habits, their educational system – and that’s a big deal,” she told the Press Association during a trip to London.
That strategy will mean catering to a larger international population – as well as their children.
The European Banking Authority’s decision to relocate from London to Paris has already factored into those plans.
“We just opened a new international school in September and we’re going to open a second European school next September – that’s specifically addressed to the employees of the European Banking Authority who are arriving in a few months,” she said.
“And we’re going on, as now I want to find an English private prep school who would be willing to open up in my area.”
She said she had already identified a location for the site, and was now launching a search for the school that would be able to set up shop in the coming years.
“I have a location for them, so I’m really trying to address all the issues, not only the question of how many square meters the offices need.”
Ms Guillaume said she was not connecting with school operators on her latest London trip as she was just “stating this search”, and was instead persuading dozens of businesses that Paris should be their next port of call.
While Paris La Defense is not focused purely on financial services, which account for about a third of the business district’s firms, it already has a notable roster of international banks that have chosen the French capital for post-Brexit offices.
Wells Fargo earlier this week announced it was applying for a licence to operate in Paris, which means it will join the likes of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and JP Morgan in the city.
Ms Guillaume insists that there is no connection between the timing of her visit and the latest round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels – which have notably failed to deliver a much-anticipated exit agreement between the UK and the EU.
“It’s good timing I suppose… but once again, negotiations are ongoing, have been going on for months and obviously they’re still going to go on for a couple (more),” she said.
“But the point is I am here because of course we are talking with international businesses, English but basically international, to tell them that it is time they considered Paris as a great location, not only for leisure, not only for tourism and food and museums but because it’s a good business destination.”
But she said the delays have made companies more willing to pull the trigger on Brexit contingency plans.
“Moving a company is complicated and you need to anticipate things, and March is tomorrow, so they are already starting to plan things more seriously.”