Who speaks for the City?

(And are they speaking loudly enough?)

By Professor Daniel Hodson, Chairman of the CityUnited Project.

A need identified… and an opportunity missed?

For the best part of a millennium the Lord Mayor has stood as the symbol and protector of the City of London’s proud independence and prosperity. Few appreciate that the Lord Mayor’s Show is the razzmatazz surrounding a constitutional event of the highest importance: the incoming Lord Mayor’s taking of the oath of loyalty to the Sovereign.  

Monarchs and their governments depended on the steadfast support of the country’s capital. Yet, as the City looks forward to the global opportunities of the post Brexit era, never in recent centuries has the leadership and authority of that ancient position been more needed, yet currently seems less in evidence.

Who now speaks for the City?

Who now speaks for the City in setting out a positive view of its future prospects and challenges, in representing its importance and needs in Westminster and in the country as a whole, using the authority of an undisputed position to focus on the promotion of Britain’s leading industry?

The foundations are there – why not use them?

The truth is that at a time when some, rightly or wrongly, believe that the City faces an existential crisis, the silence from the political City, the Lord Mayor and indeed the Corporation too, has been deafening.

Until recent times the key moving parts of the City Establishment – including the Governor of the Bank of England and other regulators, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, the City MP and the leaders of the top private sector institutions moved effectively together in an organised and collaborative way, albeit largely below the parapet.

Lord Mayor’s breakfast meetings, which I attended when I was CEO of the LIFFE exchange, at the time with the largest gross turnover in the world, were an opportunity to discuss, plan and inform, as well as organise and promote opportunities or deal with City threatening problems.

Does that still occur? The evidence is limited indeed.

An ill coordinated approach to current initiatives?

Given that it is one of the last remaining areas of post Brexit uncertainty and is the UK’s largest industry, topics affecting UK financial services have recently taken media centre stage. But where is the vision and the voice of the City?

What a golden opportunity to position two recent, important and well supported reports, from Lord Hill on a radical revision of share listing rules and from Ron Kalifa on Fintech development, as well as a seminal Mansion House speech by the Governor of the Bank of England focusing on regulatory reform, within a clear strategic framework for future City development.

How better to assert the fulfilment of its continued global leadership aspirations, as exemplified by Liz Truss’ international partnership initiatives?

(Left: Liz Truss at the UK-Japan agreement in Oct 2020)

In contrast, how easy to rebut the absurdly overhyped (and well foreseen) movement of EU on-exchange share trading to Amsterdam in the context of where the decision makers, sales traders and value added continue to be located, and to speak with pride of its under recognised preparedness for all post Brexit eventualities?

The City’s historic independence is at stake

Perhaps more worrying still in the longer term is the apparent loss of political independence of the City. Whilst the Hill review recommendation of a yearly report to Parliament by the Chancellor is a welcome recognition of the City’s national importance, it underlines the current low profile of the latter’s political establishment.

It also provides the potential for the Lord Mayor, as its constitutional leader, to speak on its behalf at the centre of Government, rather than have its case made by Westminster politician who may, perhaps one day soon, have less of a friendly disposition towards Britain’s premier industry.

The risk of a City Hall takeover

Equally concerning, given the green eyes across the Thames from City Hall, is the Mayor of London posing as the City’s principal spokesperson, as Sadiq Khan did in addressing this year’s virtual Davos conference, that seminal get-together of world opinion formers, about London’s equipment “to lead the world in banking, insurance, trading and related services”.

Yes, absolutely the right message, but can there be any more telling hint of future ambition, in the absence of the historic, well positioned and rightful alternatives? No more to be said.

  • Daniel Hodson, Monday 05 Apr 2021


About Professor Daniel Hodson:

Chairman, The CityUnited Project, formerly CEO of LIFFE, Deputy CEO of Nationwide Building Society, a director of the London Clearing House, Chairman of the Association of Corporate Treasurers and Gresham Professor of Commerce.