Power in the City of London
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 8 November 2011 21.00 GMT
The implication that any person or firm could unduly influence the City of London Corporation’s investment strategy (City property deals benefit firm linked to lord mayor, 7 November) is simply not true. Indeed, many of the schemes referenced in your article were in development long before Michael Bear was even elected to the Court of Common Council, never mind to the position of lord mayor.
Developments in and around the City of London require careful, long-term planning. The regeneration of these areas for the benefit of local business communities makes sense all round.
In addition to owning 20% of the property in the Square Mile, the City of London Corporation has also made a number of strategic investments in neighbouring areas to ensure City businesses can thrive to the benefit of all. The funds raised from such property investments also pay for our support for education and skills projects, the arts (including the Barbican), open spaces and London’s largest grant-giving charity, the City Bridge Trust.
In the course of fulfilling its duties, the City Corporation naturally works with – and partners – a wide range of developers. Its operation in the property market has to be fair and open for it to succeed.
Michael Bear does not sit on the property investment board, which, in keeping with all other City of London committees, requires each of its members to remove themselves from any votes in which they might have a prejudicial interest. Moreover, the lord mayor declared his interests at the start of his mayoralty and has not taken part in any decisions where Hammerson conflicts may have arisen.
The City Corporation is certainly not beholden to the interests of any single firm – be it a property developer, a law firm or a bank. If this were the case, rival firms would refuse to do business in the City and it would certainly not be the global financial powerhouse it is today.
Chairman, property investment board, City of London Corporation
• An extraordinary event took place outside St Paul’s on Sunday evening. The Reclaim the City campaign group had arranged for George Monbiot, John Christensen and Fr William Taylor to explain to the Occupation their concerns with the City of London Corporation.
Unexpectedly Stuart Fraser, the policy chairman of the corporation, turned up to debate with us. What was remarkable was how easily Fraser conceded defeat on so many points. In an effort to claim the corporation was a modern, democratic institution – in response to George Monbiot’s article (Comment, 1 November) – Fraser said anyone was able to become an alderman. Taylor, a former corporation councillor, pointed out that this was wrong on three counts: you need a liveryman or common councillor/alderman to propose and second you (then you need to pay £30); to be an alderman, you have to be accepted as a justice of the peace; as an alderman you are expected to take your turn as lord mayor, for which you must have around £30,000 of your own money to throw a lord mayor’s banquet.
So, if you are poor and/or not well connected, you cannot become an alderman. Fraser conceded all these points. While mainstream politicians are well used to ducking and dodging questions, one got the feeling that councillors in the corporation have not been subject to the regular challenges necessary to hone such skills.
And while Fraser said in his Response column (4 November) that “talk of the City of London being ‘an official old boys’ network’ is wide of the mark”, when challenged in a public forum it was clear there are ample grounds for using that label.
Much of the media struggles to see the point of the Occupation. But it felt to many of us freely debating outside St Paul’s on Sunday that we were starting to see what real democracy might look like.
University of Liverpool
• There is much in George Monbiot’s piece (The 1% are the very best destroyers of wealth the world has ever seen, 8 November) that will chime with many who work in the City. But the view that success may owe more to psychopathic traits than to pure talent and application extends well beyond the merely financial and reaches into all corners of our industrial, political, sporting and entertainment worlds. To what does George put down his own success, one wonders?
• George Monbiot does us a great service by drawing attention to the research that exposes the myth that financial high flyers have a unique range of talents and skills and are therefore deserving of the fabulous salaries and bonuses that they award themselves. This blows out of the water the claim, made by those in the industry, that unless they are permitted to trouser vast sums of money, “the best people” will leave these shores. In fact it won’t matter if they do so: there will be plenty of others who could perform just as well at much lower salaries. Perhaps, as the researchers have suggested, just chimpanzees flipping coins.
• Stuart Fraser’s claim that the City of London Corporation recognises the democratic rights of the 300,000 people who work in the City by giving the vote to their employers is completely absurd (Response, 4 November).
So too is his claim about the “huge diversity” of experience within the corporation’s governing council. Most of its members belong to secret societies – the freemasons and the livery companies. Membership of these societies is not open to all, and in the case of the former women are not admitted.
Although the corporation is the smallest local authority in Britain, its public relations department is the largest. Its charitable contributions amount to petty cash when measured against the corporation’s vast resources, which have remained concealed to public scrutiny since before the days when witches were burnt at the stake.